Israeli top model Bar Refaeli convicted of tax evasion
TEL AVIV, Israel — An Israeli court convicted top model Bar Refaeli on Monday on four counts of tax offenses, capping a prolonged tax evasion case against her and her family that sullied the image of a once beloved national icon.
Refaeli entered the Tel Aviv courthouse with a white face mask to match her white blouse. She was accompanied by her father, Raffi, her mother, Zipi, and a phalanx of lawyers. The 35-year-old Refaeli and her mother confessed to offenses of evading paying taxes on income nearing $10 million.
According to a a plea bargain agreement they signed with authorities last month, Refaeli is to serve nine months of community service while her mother will be sent to prison for 16 months. The two are also ordered to pay a $1.5 million fine on top of millions of back taxes owed to the state.
The prolonged case, built around the celebrity model’s worldwide income and the family’s attempts to downplay her ties to Israel, damaged her well-crafted public image as an informal ambassador for the country.
Still, she remains a popular TV personality and pitch-woman whose image is ubiquitous on highway billboards throughout the country. Last year, she hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv.
The heart of the case revolves around Refaeli’s residence earlier this decade when she gallivanted around the world in high-profile modeling campaigns, graced the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition and had a lengthy romantic relationship with actor Leonardo DiCaprio.
Israeli tax law determines residency primarily upon whether the person spent most of the calendar year in the country. Refaeli claimed that she hadn’t and therefore did not have to declare her worldwide income in certain years.
But prosecutors rejected her claim and charged her with providing incorrect tax information. For instance, Refaeli’s indictment said she earned some $7.2 million between the years 2009-2012 while claiming to reside overseas to avoid paying taxes on her income.
In previous appeals, an Israeli court ruled that Refaeli’s relationship with DiCaprio did not qualify as a “family unit,” and therefore she could not claim his American residence to avoid paying the full taxes she owed.
Refaeli’s lawyers said the plea bargain proved she hadn’t intentionally evaded tax payments. Refaeli’s mother, who also acted as her agent, was charged with failure to report income, avoiding paying taxes and aiding someone else in evading tax payments. The indictment said she signed leases for her daughter under the names of other family members to blur Refaeli’s actual residency status and refrained from declaring her own income as her daughter’s agent.