Death of Iskandar Safa: “Politics does not interest me,” declared the Franco-Lebanese businessman in 2019

At first glance, nothing distinguishes the latest issue of Current Values ​​from the previous ones

Death of Iskandar Safa: “Politics does not interest me,” declared the Franco-Lebanese businessman in 2019

At first glance, nothing distinguishes the latest issue of Current Values ​​from the previous ones. On the cover, the weekly announces an interview with Michel Onfray on “the collapse of France in everything and everywhere”. But its logo is displayed on a black background, as a sign of mourning. Its owner, the Franco-Lebanese businessman Iskandar Safa, died Monday January 29, in Mougins (Alpes-Maritimes). Aged 68, he had “faced a serious illness in recent months,” according to the press release announcing his death. A photo of “Sandy,” as those close to him called him, adorns one corner of the cover.

Photos of Iskandar Safa were rare, as were his public appearances. He preferred to discreetly manage his fortune, which was mainly made from the sale of warships. According to the annual ranking established by Challenges magazine, in 2023 he held the 86th largest fortune in France, valued at 1.45 billion euros. “They say I’m mysterious, but I don’t know where that comes from,” he laughed in 2019, when Le Monde met him to paint his portrait.

The mystery begins in his youth. Born in 1955, into a family from the Lebanese Christian upper middle class, Iskandar Safa was 20 years old when the civil war broke out. He did not wish to discuss his participation in the fighting, in the ranks of the Guardians of the Cedar, a Christian militia. He was more talkative about his studies at Insead, the school for future businessmen in Fontainebleau (Seine-et-Marne), and his beginnings in the hotel industry, for Saudi investors.

His name appeared for the first time in the French press in 1988, during the release of French hostages from Lebanon. In his native country, Iskandar Safa, although a Maronite Christian, had valuable contacts among the Shiites. He would have benefited Jean-Charles Marchiani, the shadow negotiator of the Minister of the Interior Charles Pasqua, making it possible to establish contact with the kidnappers. Iskandar Safa reappeared in the French press in 1992, this time as a captain of industry and a job saver. He bought Constructions Mécaniques de Normandie, a Cherbourg shipyard specializing in military ships, on the verge of bankruptcy. He reopened his address book, and over the years obtained contracts with the Sultanate of Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and even Saudi Arabia. He obtained French nationality in 1999.

Justice investigation

It was at this time that justice became interested in him. She investigates the supposed payment of a ransom for the release of the hostages, and suspects Iskandar Safa of having diverted part of it for the benefit of the Pasqua clan. In 2002, an international arrest warrant was issued against Iskandar Safa. The businessman continues to sign contracts for Constructions Mécaniques de Normandie, with the blessing of the French government, but to escape arrest, he avoids setting foot in France and manages his business from Beirut. Seven years later, in 2009, the case was dismissed.

When he decided to invest in the media, he joined forces with two veterans of the sector, Etienne Mougeotte, former vice-president of TF1 and former editorial director of Le Figaro, and Charles Villeneuve, former journalist of TF1. They are responsible for identifying securities to buy back. In 2015, Pierre Fabre Laboratories, owners of Valeurs Actuelles, decided to sell the title. This old right-wing weekly is in good shape. A new formula adopted a few years earlier, on the entire right and based on provocative coverage on Islam or immigration, caused sales to jump.

“Politics does not interest me,” assured Iskandar Safa to Le Monde in 2019, affirming that he had not bought Valeurs Acteurs for ideological reasons: “We looked at the income statements, we did not audit the editorial slant. » After Current Values, Iskandar Safa will buy the monthly Mieux vivre votre argent (sold in 2022 to the Les Echos-Le Parisien group). In 2019, he lost a duel with Xavier Niel (individual shareholder of Le Monde), for control of the regional daily Nice-Matin.

Current Values ​​was already moving to the right when Iskandar Safa bought it, but the new owner did nothing to refocus the title. Less than a year after the takeover, one of the magazine’s young stars, Geoffroy Lejeune, 27, was promoted to editorial director. Under his direction, Current Values ​​continues interviews with Marion Maréchal and Eric Zemmour. Iskandar Safa will never speak publicly about the content of his newspaper. Even when, in August 2020, an article targeting La France insoumise MP Danièle Obono caused a scandal. In this fictional text, this elected official of Gabonese origin is described as enslaved by Africans (the director of the publication and the author of the article, Laurent Jullien, will be convicted of racist insult on appeal in November 2022).

Replace Geoffroy Lejeune

Behind the “buzz” generated by Current Values, sales are slowing and advertisers are fleeing. Internally, a conflict of values, and of generations, confronts the editorial staff and managers, supporters of an ideological refocusing. The shareholder decides to decide. He will have to do it twice before replacing Geoffroy Lejeune. In October 2022, after leaks to the press, Geoffroy Lejeune united the editorial team behind him and called for help from readers on social networks. In June 2023, he was finally laid off and thanked, before being appointed head of Journal du Dimanche, in the process of coming under the control of Vincent Bolloré.

On January 19, a few days before the death of Iskandar Safa, it was at the Cherbourg naval base that Emmanuel Macron chose to present his wishes to the armies. His trip was the occasion for a visit to the construction sites of Constructions Mécaniques de Normandie, to discover their light and fast interceptor ships, which will soon equip the French navy. The President of the Republic was welcomed and guided by Iskandar Safa's son, Akram, who will succeed his father at the head of Privinvest, the family holding company, controlling activities in both shipbuilding and the press.

Iskandar Safa managed his business from his numerous base locations, in Beirut, Abu Dhabi, London and, above all, Mandelieu-la-Napoule, a commune in the Alpes-Maritimes of which he had become the first land owner – with his personal estate, a hotel , a restaurant or even a golf course – and the first patron. When his death was announced, the town hall decided to lower the flags. Iskandar Safa's funeral took place in a local church whose construction he himself had financed, Notre-Dame du Liban, in Mandelieu.