Jewish tycoon invested in Enron, Madoff and now FTX

The Belfer family are famous for their philanthropy in the United States, giving generously to Jewish causes


NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 05: Renee Belfer and Robert Belfer attend Lincoln Center's 60th Anniversary Diamond Jubilee Gala on May 05, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Lincoln Center)

A Jewish tycoon who invested in both Enron and the Madoff Ponzi scheme has been hit by more bad luck after it was revealed that he was one of doomed crypto company FTX’s largest shareholders.

Robert Belfer, a Polish-born American businessman and petrochemical tycoon was mentioned in court documents related to the collapse of crypto exchange FTX, described by investors as a “massive Ponzi scheme.” 

A well-known philanthropist in the US, Belfer has donated to notable Jewish organisations including, Yeshiva University, the Weizmann institute, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The Belfer family also gave their name to a school at Harvard university and are major donors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Court documents filed in the lawsuit against FTX and its Jewish founder Sam Bankman-Fried show that the Belfer family put in over $30m dollars into the now defunct business during a fundraising round last year. 

In the 1990s, the Belfer family held over $2bn worth of equity in energy company Enron, making them one of the business’s largest investors. 

Belfer, who sat on the Enron board at the time of the collapse, maintained that he knew nothing about the illegal accounting practices that led to the company’s demise.

Enron declared bankruptcy in 2001 after executives hid huge losses from shareholders using fraudulent accounting. Enron employees and investors lost the vast majority of their money and pensions in the collapse, which at the time was the largest business liquidation in US history. 

After the Enron debacle, the Belfers are believed to have pulled over $28m out of the Madoff investment scheme before it collapsed, and were named in a lawsuit by administrators who tried to recover money in the wake of the scandal. 

Robert Belfer is the son of oil mogul Arthur Belfer, who fled Poland in the wake of the Nazi invasion, and founded a business in New York selling sleeping bags to the U.S. Army before expanding into oil and oil products in the 1950s.

The younger Belfer tycoon, who was born in 1935 in a religious home in Krakow, was interviewed by the United States Holocaust Museum in 2006 about his childhood before coming to the United States.

He told the museum of his childhood in a Jewish town he likened to the fictional town of Anatevka in Fiddler on the Roof, with "Yiddish being spoken in public."

The Belfers have declined to comment publicly. 

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