Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli testified on Wednesday as part of her appeal against a massive bill handed to her by the Tax Authority, which determined that she had hidden tens of millions of shekels of income in several cases of tax evasion, including falsely claiming to not have lived in Israel in 2009-2010.
Refaeli was questioned for some two hours in the Lod District Court, where she claimed that during that period she was living abroad with her then boyfriend, Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Tax Authority was reportedly unswayed by that argument, saying that because the couple was never married, and their relationship apparently “had its ups and downs” during that period, her claims of tax exemption were invalid.
When investigators followed up on her claims that her life was centered in the United States at the time, US tax authorities revealed that she was registered there as a “non-resident.” The investigators also established that during that period, Refaeli owned no assets outside Israel, and had not rented a home or even a car abroad.
Israeli authorities say she was actually living in two luxury apartments in Tel Aviv, which were rented in the name of her brother and mother.
The Globes financial daily reported that Refaeli admitted to living in the apartments. Under questioning, her accountant said he didn’t know whether someone else paid the rent for her. Had he known, he contended, he would have had to consider including the rent as a taxable benefit.
It is suspected that Bar Refaeli’s mother, Tzipi, was the one who gave the authorities the false information that her daughter lived out of Israel.
An investigation into the model’s taxes also reportedly found that Refaeli had received a Range Rover vehicle in exchange for doing publicity and public relations for the British car company. Later she allegedly received a Lexus car, which was registered in the name of the importer as a “demonstration vehicle” but which was actually used by her.
Investigators found that the car companies had a contract with the model according to which they would provide her with a vehicle, including maintenance expenses, repairs and fuel. In exchange Rafaeli would advertise the vehicle and be photographed with it.
The contracts also allegedly stipulated that the parties would keep the agreement secret. The taxable value of the benefit of those vehicles is estimated to be hundreds of thousands of shekels.
Reportedly there were many other benefits Refaeli got as a celebrity.
On Wednesday, she ignored the dozens of reporters and photographers who clustered outside the court, entering the closed-door hearing without making any statement.
The case began in December 2015 when Refaeli was questioned for 12 hours at the Tax Authority offices in Tel Aviv, and was initially said to be suspected of failing to report over NIS 1 million (then some $250,000) in celebrity benefits. Later, however, the sum was increased to tens of millions of shekels as more information came to light.
The model, whose many campaigns for various companies have made her one of Israel’s most recognizable faces on the world stage, has also been a mainstay of celebrity websites and gossip rags in Israel and the US.