Illness Claims N.C. Philanthropist, Reinsurer, Maurice Sabbah

April 20, 2006

Maurice “Chico” Sabbah, a Greensboro, N.C. businessman and philanthropist whose risk-sharing insurance company had to pay more than $400 million to settle a lawsuit stemming from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, died this week at the age of 77, his family said.

Sabbah died after a long illness, but the cause was not immediately available.

Along with Kenneth Kornfeld, also of Greensboro, Sabbah co-founded Fortress Re of Burlington in 1972. The company was a reinsurer, an insurer for insurance companies, allowing them to pool financial resources they might need to settle massive claims.

The company was sued by Japanese insurance firms that paid premiums and management fees to Fortress Re, which was the pool manager for the four airplanes hijacked in the Sept. 11 attacks.

The three Japanese companies claimed they could not pay the estimated $3 billion in losses related to the attacks because Sabbah and Kornfeld kept hundreds of millions for themselves instead of saving it to cover claims.

An arbitration panel awarded the companies $1.12 billion in December 2003, finding that Fortress Re engaged in fraud and “willful and deliberate misconduct.” Sabbah, who denied wrong-doing, and Kornfeld settled for $400 million ($326.5 million) in July 2004.

The legal fight threatened the existence of an elite Jewish prep school in Greensboro to which Sabbah had donated about $100 million. The Japanese companies claimed the money was wrongfully diverted from Fortress Re to the American Hebrew Academy.

Sabbah and school officials announced a settlement of claims involving the school in January 2005 that allowed it to keep “a significant financial endowment.” Specific terms were not disclosed.
“The academy’s viability is no longer in doubt,” Sabbah said at the time.

Sabbah’s family cited his charitable work in announcing his death Monday, the News-Record reported.

“All of those who had the good fortune and privilege of being touched by this giant of a man will cherish the wonders he added to their lives,” said a statement released by his daughter, academy board chairwoman Leeor Sabbah, and nephew, Glenn Drew, the board CEO.
Business Week magazine in 2003 named Sabbah among America’s 50 most generous philanthropists. He also gave funds to build a gym at Beth David Synagogue in Greensboro and a hospital wing in Israel, where he had a house.

Sabbah was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Great Neck, New York, to parents who were founders of the temple there. He attended college in California, then joined the Israeli Army, where he met his wife, Zmira, who was also a soldier. He later joined the U.S. Army and served in Korea.

Sabbah is survived by his wife and daughters Leeor and Ronee Sabbah.

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