Israeli tax authorities retroactively tracked the movements of supermodel Bar Refaeli and her two brothers over a two year period via their cellphone records to gather evidence on suspected tax offenses, Hadashot TV reported Tuesday.
That investigation tool is usually only used by police in cases involving more grave offenses such as murder or rape, experts told the news outlet.
Earlier this week, Hadashot said that pending a hearing, prosecutors will soon charge Refaeli with tax offenses, perjury, and money laundering.
The television report said Refaeli lied in saying she lived mostly abroad, and failed to report pricey gifts and celebrity discounts that she received to Israel’s tax authorities.
Last June, Refaeli appealed a massive bill handed to her by the Tax Authority, which had 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.
Tuesday’s report said that authorities tracked Refaeli’s phone to determine where she had been throughout those two years, as part of their effort to prove she had been based in Israel. They also similarly monitored the phones of her two brothers.
The report quoted experts as saying they can’t recall such a tactic being previously employed by authorities in tax offense cases, adding that it is commonly used when investigating much more serious crimes.
Refaeli claimed that during the period covered by the tax bill, 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 said 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 did not 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 Tzipi Refaeli, her mother, was the one who gave the authorities the false information that her daughter lived outside 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 that Refaeli received as a celebrity.
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, 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.