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Bar Refaeli and mother Tzipi begin serving tax evasion sentences

Supermodel starts 9 months of community service at school for disabled adults; mother begins 16-month term in prison

Model and host of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, Bar Refaeli, poses on the Orange Carpet, during the opening event, at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on May 12, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Model and host of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, Bar Refaeli, poses on the Orange Carpet, during the opening event, at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on May 12, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Tzipi Refaeli, the mother of supermodel Bar Refaeli, began serving a 16-month prison term for tax evasion on Monday morning.

She will serve out her term at Neve Tirtza Prison in Ramle, Israel’s only women’s prison, which houses some 150 inmates.

Tzipi, 66, arrived at the prison at 5:30 a.m., hours before the scheduled 10 a.m. start of her term, in order to avoid being photographed entering the prison by media and papparazzi.

Prison officials said she would be watched carefully for the first two weeks, when some prisoners experience serious emotional distress due to the change to their lives.

Israeli top model Bar Refaeli, right, and her mother, Tzipi Rafaieli wear face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic as they leave a courtroom in Tel Aviv, September 13, 2020 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, Pool)

Bar Refaeli, 35, also began serving her nine-month community service sentence on Monday. Accompanied by her father Raffi, she arrived Monday morning to begin her service at the Beit Noam school in Kiryat Ono, an educational center for severely disabled adults where they can continue learning after the state-funded special education system cuts out at age 21.

Refaeli’s upcoming work at the center drew a national spotlight to its activity.

The center has 72 pupils with a wide range of handicaps both physical and mental.

One unnamed employee of the school admitted to Hebrew media that there was “excitement” over the celebrity supermodel’s arrival.

“Unfortunately there are many people who are put off from contact with special populations, because it’s unfamiliar, because of ignorance,” she said. “I’m sure that Bar will connect with the work we do here, with the staff and the pupils. There’s a supportive environment here and we’re going to do everything to make sure she feels comfortable.”

Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, left and her mother Tzipi Refaeli arrive for a court hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, September 13, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Mother and daughter were sentenced on September 13, ending a prolonged tax evasion case that had sullied the image of a once beloved national icon.

The 35-year-old Refaeli and her mother were convicted in July of offenses of evading paying taxes on income nearing $10 million.

According to a a plea bargain accepted by the court, the two were each ordered to pay a NIS 2.5 million ($1.5 million) fine on top of millions in 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 for tax purposes, 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.

Duncan Laurence of the Netherlands, center, celebrates after winning the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest grand final with the song “Arcade” in Tel Aviv, May 18, 2019. He is flanked (from left) by the four Israeli hosts: Assi Azar, Lucy Ayoub, Bar Refaeli and Erez Tal (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The case centers around Refaeli’s residence during years when she traveled around the world in high-profile modeling campaigns, graced the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition and had a lengthy romantic relationship with Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Authorities said that Refaeli lied in saying she lived mostly abroad, and failed to report the income, pricey gifts, and celebrity discounts she received during that time to Israeli tax authorities.

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 income during certain years.

Prosecutors rejected her claim and charged her with providing incorrect tax information. Refaeli’s indictment said she earned some $7.2 million in the years 2009-2012 while claiming to reside overseas to avoid paying Israeli 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 US residence to avoid paying the full taxes she owed.

Refaeli’s lawyers said the plea bargain proved she had not intentionally evaded paying taxes. Refaeli’s mother, who also acted as her agent, was charged with failure to report income, avoiding paying taxes and aiding 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.

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