Incredibly, he signed a confession written in French, which he neither speaks nor writes, but now fully retracts.
With confession in hand, however, chief prosecutor Daniel Serdet quickly dismissed all the conspiracy theories, saying:“There is no mys- tery here. Maher was exclusively responsible for the deaths.The only mystery which remains is what was going on in his head and what were his true motives.”
Maher’s original lawyer, plucked from the American Consulate list, had no prior murder trial experience.“You have to do it like pin the tail on the donkey and hope you get a good one,” says Griffith who thought Maher’s confession should have been thrown out.
Griffith offered Maher his help just prior to his trial by which time he’d spent three years behind bars. He still argues the case for Maher’s complete innocence, asking, “What would be Maher’s motive? Safra’s already paying him $175,000. Nobody here in Monaco that I’ve spoken to believes he stabbed himself.”
Although Heidi and Ted are now divorcing, she was his staunchest sup- porter for years.Another early ally was Dominick Dunne who also thought Ted was being railroaded. However, Dunne’s faith crumbled fast once he saw Maher in court and just felt in his gut that something was not right.
“The second day of the trial,” Dunne recalls,“he came in complain- ing,‘They didn’t let me sleep,’ and there was something icky about it.” Dunne recognised Ted as a troubled man. Nevertheless, he still leans towards the belief that he might not have acted alone and could have been some kind of a fall guy.
He remembers broaching the possibility that Ted could have been paid by someone to do what he did.“The wife and sister both were so horrified when I said,‘Do you think there’s any chance there is $5 million waiting for Ted?’” he recalls.“I’ve got nothing to go on, though.”
So many questions, so many loose ends. A very big one: why hadn’t Lily Safra successfully coaxed her petrified husband out of the safe room? She has declined to explain. In February 2003, on the US tel- evision news show 48 Hours, her lawyer, Marc Bonnant, called scandal- ous any suggestion that Safra’s widow did anything other than call the police and “try desperately to go and save her husband.”
Monaco’s chief prosecutor Serdet also rejected the idea that Monaco’s emergency services were negligent and partly responsible for the deaths. He and Bonnant lay the blame for the fatal delay solely on Maher and his tale of armed intruders. Maher has never denied setting a small fire but has always insisted that he never meant to hurt anyone. Another puzzle: how did a little wastebasket fire become such a huge blaze?
Patches of Safra’s blood were found on nurse Torrente’s bra and panties, and DNA from an unknown man was found under Safra’s fingernails. Prosecutors had no explanations but the male DNA could have got there in any number of ways. Dominick Dunne thinks the blood is understand- able, given the life and death drama taking place in the saferoom.
“Look,” he says,“if I wereVivian in that room and [Safra] is going to sit there, I would get up and unlock that door! Give me a break. It’s not like you’re dying for Christ. But I can see him grabbing her.”
While the prosecution said it was impossible, Griffith insists intruders could have broken into the Safra apartment.They could have climbed a couple of metres up some lattice work to the top of a utility shed, he says,“And from the utility shed there’s a ledge.You just put your knee on the ledge and you’re in the Safra apartment.”
Awaiting the verdict at trial, Maher tearfully described Safra as his best employer saying,“What’s happened is and always will be a terrible accident.”Yet three judges and three jury members found him guilty of “causing deaths by arson in an inhabited place.” On December 3, 2002, Maher, then 44, received a 10 year sentence. Lily Safra issued a statement saying,“Justice has been done.”
And yet, pieces of the puzzle still don’t quite fit. It’s all the niggling questions that keep gossip and speculation alive six years later.
But Lily Safra’s life has moved on. One of the world’s wealthiest widows, she inherited most of Edmond’s $5.5 billion fortune. Heading the Edmond J Safra Philanthropic Foundation, she’s become known as
Far left: Lily Safra is one of the world's wealthiest widows Below: Maher and his cellmate escaped from Monaco’s prison by sawing through their titanium cell bars Opposite page: Safra, pictured, was collaborating with the FBI to monitor Russian international money-laundering
Photography AFP; AP; A-Link/Sipa Press; Getty Images; Reuters; Rex/Features
I just had that feeling. It was stunning that this minor congressman should all of a sudden have people saying that they conducted Lily Safra’s investigation of me.”
Dunne says he has in his possession 16 important handwritten letters. While he has no intention of revealing their content, he says,“If any- thing ever happens to me, my son, my lawyer, my agent, know they’re going to let go of these letters.”
The Safra saga certainly isn’t over yet. Shortly after his conviction, Ted Maher and his cellmate escaped from Monaco’s deluxe prison. They sawed through their titanium cell bars and scaled down a wall with a rope fashioned from trash bags. Where were the jail guards? How did they get the tools and trash bags? The episode was a gigan- tic embarrassment.
Ted was snagged just seven hours after his escape, alone in a hotel room in Nice, 24 km away. He’s now eligible for parole on his murder conviction, yet must now stand trial again for the escape. He could get an extra year behind bars for his day of folly.
Griffith says his client will drop a bombshell in court and reveal the truth about events that led up to the fire. It’s a Hollywood-like jaw- dropper of a yarn but Griffith says Maher has stuck to this story ever since they met:Two days before the fire,Ted was abducted at gunpoint during a stroll and dragged into a van. His unknown captors drove him around for an hour and showed him photographs of his wife leaving work and his children leaving their school.The implicit threat was that something would happen to his family if he did not cooperate.
“He was told that something was going to happen on Friday at the Safra residence,” says Griffith.“He said he wasn’t working on Friday and was told, ‘You will be, something’s going to happen, do not interfere.’ Then they dumped him out. Lo and behold, he was not supposed to work that Friday.” But, of course, he did.
“Where does all this money come from, and what sort of money is it?” questions Middleton
the “new grand dame of London’s super-rich funding set.” Sealing her social position in London, she sat next to Prince Charles at a private dinner he and Camilla hosted at Buckingham Palace. She’s underwrit- ten a good deal of his Prince’s Trust charity work.
A Brazilian by birth, she had three children with her first husband, clothing manufacturer Mario Cohen.Tragically, their son Claudio died in a 1989 road accident with Lily’s young grandchild. Her second hus- band, electrical business owner, Alfredo “Freddy” Monteverde, shot himself. His suicide left her an estimated $230 million. After a fleeting third marriage to businessman Samuel Bendahan, Lily and Edmond wed in 1976. It was a happy match.
Sensing skepticism, Griffith says,“Now look, I’m just telling you my client’s story. Do I believe him 100 percent? I don’t know if I believe him 100 percent. He has been insistent and consistent.”
Griffith does believe that there’s been some kind of cover-up.“You can’t justify an escape but his motive in escaping is that the story that he told initially never came out.They got the fall guy and that’s it.”
Author Bianchini wrote in his new book: “At this point in my investigation, the elements undermining the official theory accord- ing to which Ted Maher acted alone are already impressive. And sufficient to raise the possibility that he was an accomplice in a veri- table organisation.”
At 67, Lily is a formidable woman. Ask Lady Colin Campbell. Lily Safra believed Lady Colin’s novel Empress Bianca was based on her and threatened legal action.The publisher promptly yanked the book from bookshelves and pulped it. People seem very wary of crossing her.
This wouldn’t surprise Dominick Dunne. Something he wrote in his anity Fair journal in 2002 on an entirely unrelated matter got him into hot water with former congressman Gary Condit. But when their lawyers talked, Dunne’s representative heard something stunning from Condit’s concerning two men they had interviewed.
“They said they’d been trained in intelligence in Israel,” Dunne says, “and one of the two said they had conducted Lily Safra’s investigation of Dominick Dunne! I almost fainted! I always knew I’ve been followed,
Yet many will doubtless find it hard to swallow the idea of Maher as a puppet for an organisation’s hit on Safra, or a pawn used by a mysteri- ous Russian party.
“I’m quite sure the Russians could find other ways of doing things,” says Patrick Middleton. “I would have thought Maher would have seemed to them such an unreliable kind of person anyway.”
Nevertheless, at his still unscheduled escape trial, Griffith believes that Maher will float precisely that idea.
Meanwhile, Maher sits behind bars in Monaco, and Cecile Brossard sits behind bars in Geneva. Cecile’s trial could clear up many ques- tions surrounding Edouard Stern’s death. But it seems that much about
Edmond Safra’s grizzly demise will forever remain a puzzle