Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli was on Friday named as the co-host of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, despite a looming indictment against her for tax offenses involving tens of millions of shekels.
Refaeli will host the May extravaganza alongside longtime television host Erez Tal, with Assi Azar and Lucy Ayoub broadcasting from the backstage area.
Gal Gadot was reportedly initially offered the hosting gig, but was said to have turned it down due to scheduling problems.
Earlier this month it was reported organizers were worried Refaeli may be too busy with her legal case to devote enough time to rehearsals for the show, as well as concerned about ethical and public image issues that may come with having a host under indictment.
Israel won the right to host the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest by winning the 2018 edition, with singer Netta Barzilai’s “Toy.”
State prosecutors this month notified Refaeli, as well as her parents Tzipi and Rafi, that they are planning to press criminal charges against them — pending a hearing — on suspicion of money-laundering and tax-dodging offenses.
Rafaeli’s lawyer has categorically denied any wrongdoing on her client’s part, and said the supermodel’s defense team was optimistic that a judge would throw out the case.
Authorities suspect that Refaeli lied in saying she lived mostly abroad, and failed to report the pricey gifts and celebrity discounts that she received to Israel’s tax authorities.
In addition, she allegedly set up companies abroad and opened foreign accounts around the world, where she stored her earnings to conceal them from Israeli tax authorities. At the same time, she gave US tax authorities documents saying she is non-resident of the US and lives in Israel.
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.