Shipping magnate Sammy Ofer died in his home in Tel Aviv on Friday aged 89. He had been fighting illness for some time and his condition had worsened over the past week.
Ofer is survived by his wife Aviva, sons Eyal and Idan, eight grandchildren and one great grandchild. The funeral of Israel's wealthiest man will be held in Tel Aviv's Trumpledor cemetery this afternoon.
Family spokesman and publicist Motti Scherf issued the following statement. "Sammy loved life, had a sophisticated sense of humor and laughing was an important part of his life even though he was always busy with his business. He was a really exceptional man. Through his children and his grandchildren the business group will carry on unchanged in the spirit of its founder, maintaining his tradition of hard work and dedication, which is the great heritage Sammy leaves after him."
Sammy Ofer was born in Romania in 1922 and came to Israel with his family two years later. As a youth he started working as a courier for a shipping company and served in the Haganah, pre-State defense corps before becoming one of Israel's richest tycoons. His fortune was estimated at $10 billion. He was an art collector and coinnesseur, and in 2006 he acquired a Van Gogh painting for $40 million.
Until recent years his brother Yuli was his full business partner. The two brothers separated their businesses with Sammy Ofer's Ofer Holdings Group controlling Israel Corp. (TASE:ILCO) and its units Israel Chemicals Ltd. (TASE: ICL), Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd., Oil Refineries Ltd. (TASE:ORL) and Tower Semiconductor Ltd. (Nasdaq: TSEM; TASE:TSEM). His international shipping interests included Royal Caribbean International Ltd. and Zodiac Maritime Agency Ltd.
He was often a controversial figure over the issue of connections between politics and business and he once sued the journalist Micki Rosenthal on the subject.
Ofer was a renowned philanthropist who set up a fund for medications not included in the government health treatment list, and among his many donations were to the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center's Sammy Ofer School of Communications and the new Haifa soccer stadium, which will be named for him. In 2008, he donated £20 million to the National Maritime Museum in London. He lived for much of his life in England and served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. He was awarded a KBE by Queen Elizabeth II.
Over the past week, as he lay dying in his Tel Aviv home, he became embroiled in the "Ofergate" scandal after the US State Department imposed sanctions on Ofer Holdings, for alleged sale of the tanker Raffles Park to an Iranian company last year by a subsidiary Tanker Pacific.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 3, 2011
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