Saturday 20 January 2018

Supermodel Bar Refaeli questioned by Israeli tax authorities on 'celebrity discounts'

Israel's most famous face accused of not declaring rent-free flats and luxury cars

Raf Sanchez

Bar Refaeli, the Israeli supermodel whose chiseled features peer out from billboards across Israel and the world, has been allegedly interrogated by tax authorities on suspicion of taking tens of thousands of pounds in "celebrity discounts".

The model, who once dated Leonardo Dicaprio, was reportedly questioned for 12 hours on allegations that companies were giving her a free life of luxury in return for their brands being associated with her global image.

Investigators are reported to be examining whether the 30-year-old Ms Refaeli has been living rent-free in one of Tel Aviv's most exclusive apartment buildings and that a car company has been providing her with complimentary vehicles.

In return, Ms Refaeli reportedly allowed herself to be photographed with the cars and her friends ensured that the apartment building's name was featured prominently in gossip columns about her.

The exchange was put starkly by an interior designer who claimed that he claimed that he gave her a 60 per cent discount on a £17,000 decorating project.

"I gave her a 'celebrity discount,'" the man told investigators, according to Ynet news. When asked if he received any other form of compensation, the designer answered: "Yes, the publicity I got."

The total value of these "celebrity discounts" is said to be more than one million shekels (£172,164) and Ms Refaeli is accused of not declaring them to tax authorities.

Ms Refaeli's mother Zipora was also arrested, with the Tax Authority estimating the unreported income from abroad at "dozens of millions of shekels".

The Tax Authority alleges Ms Refaeli and her mother, who was also arrested, created the false appearance of the top model residing outside of Israel in order to avoid paying the full extent of taxes.

Israeli citizens who are not residents are exempted from reporting to tax authorities on income from outside the country.

An undercover investigation culminated in a raid on Ms Refaeli and her mother's home on Wednesday, and on Thursday a Tel Aviv court ordered their arrest and release on bail.

Rumours of a supermodel accused of tax irregularities had swirled in Israel for weeks but a gag order lifted on Thursday revealed the country's most famous face was at the centre of the story.

Ms Refaeli was reportedly questioned until midnight on Wednesday and her lawyers appeared in court on Thursday, where they denied she had done anything improper.

"This is a taxation issue that raises the discussion of who is considered a resident of Israel," her representative said. The model made no mention of the issue on her Twitter account, which has more than 800,000 followers.

According to Ynet, Ms Refaeli will have to seek authorities' approval before leaving Israel and provide a 250,000 shekel guarantee that she will return. A third party will have to provide a further half a million shekels on her behalf.

She could face serious fines if authorities conclude she has been avoiding taxes.

The allegations come less than three months after Ms Refaeli wed businessman Adi Ezra in a ceremony in a forest in northern Israeli.

Such is Ms Refaeli's fame that Israel's aviation authorities reportedly agreed to clear the skies above the venue so the nuptials would not be disturbed by aircraft above.

But while Israelis are deeply proud of Ms Refaeli's global fame, she is also a figure of occasional controversy.

She married an older man when she was a teenager but divorced him two years later, in what critics said was a blatant effort to avoid Israel's mandatory military service. Married women are exempted in some circumstances from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

“I really wanted to serve in the IDF, but I don’t regret not enlisting, because it paid off big time,” she later said. “That’s just the way it is, celebrities have other needs.

She also raised hackles in the Jewish state by questioning whether it was worth it for young people to fight in the military.

"Why is it good to die for our country?," she asked. "Isn't it better to live in New York? For what reason do children aged 18 need to sacrifice their lives?"

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