- MONTE CARLO (Reuters)
- The American male nurse of banker Edmond Safra has been detained and
is to be charged with arson following the billionaire financier's mysterious
death in a fire last Friday, the Monaco prosecutor announced Monday.
- An arrest warrant has been requested for Ted Maher, who
will be held on suspicion of ``arson in inhabited places leading to the
death of two people,'' Daniel Serdet told a news conference.
- ``He admitted to having set fire to a wastepaper bin
to set off an alarm and then to have gone downstairs to raise an alert,''
- ``He did not intend to threaten Edmond Safra's life,
he simply wanted to draw attention to himself to settle his differences
with an employee of Mr. Safra,'' he said.
- Maher was placed in custody last night in a Monaco hospital
where he was being treated for knife wounds.
- The 67-year-old Safra and another nurse, 52-year old
Viviane Torrente, suffocated after a blaze engulfed the banker's luxury
Monaco penthouse in the early hours of Friday.
- Maher, 41, from Stormville, New York, has been questioned
three times as a witness and has told police he was stabbed by hooded assailants
who had allegedly broken into Safra's apartment.
- Safra, a Beirut-born banker, was buried earlier Monday
- News of the nurse's detention came soon after mourners
from the world of finance, diplomacy and high society crowded into Geneva's
main Hekhal Haness synagogue to pay their respects to the financier.
- ``It is profoundly shocking and disturbing,'' said Alexander
Bruggmann, spokesman for Safra's Republic Bank of New York in Geneva.
- Inside the synagogue, the dead man's black-clad widow
Lily, a Brazilian heiress, wept before the coffin, surrounded by close
- Outside, Swiss policemen with machineguns kept watch
as some 1,000 mourners made their farewells at an orthodox Jewish ceremony.
- Maher, who was reported to have worked for Safra for
five months, told Monaco police he discovered two intruders in the banker's
high-security residence shortly before 5 a.m.
- He said he briefly lost consciousness when they stabbed
him and when he came to a fire had broken out in the flat. He raised the
alarm and was taken to hospital.
- Conflicting Evidence
- However, officials were struck by conflicting versions
of the events. The other nurse, Torrente, who made six emergency phone
calls to a colleague outside the premises before she died, spoke of only
- Monaco's chief prosecutor Daniel Serdet told reporters
at the weekend that investigators were also puzzled how anyone could have
penetrated the ultra-sophisticated security system protecting Safra's 1,000
square meter duplex apartment.
- Officials have said Safra was conscious when firefighters
arrived at his apartment and had received a call on his mobile phone from
his wife Lily begging him to come out from the locked bathroom where he
had taken refuge with Torrente.
- Lily was in the apartment at the time of the fire and
had briefly taken refugee in another bathroom. Investigators believe a
terrified Safra, who was suffering from Parkinson's disease, refused to
come out, fearing assailants were still in his home.
- Russian Mafia Rumors
- Wild rumors soon spread that Safra, one of the wealthiest
men in the world, had been targeted by the Russian mafia.
- The Republic National Bank of New York was briefly and
peripherally involved in a money laundering scandal related to IMF aid
to Russia when the bank brought unusual money transfers to the attention
of the FBI in late August 1998.
- Investigators say they have no information about the
possibility of mafia involvement, but media commentators noted hitmen normally
carried more weapons than just knives.
- The death of Safra came in the final stages of the sale
of his stake in Republic New York Corp to British bank HSBC Holdings Plc.
- HSBC chairman John Bond, among the VIPs attending the
ceremony in Geneva, said his bank would uphold the banking tradition of
- Israel's Foreign Minister David Levy, the exiled son
of Italy's last king, Prince Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy, Prince Sadruddin
Aga Khan and former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar were
also among the mourners.