Israel launches probe into firms exposed in tax haven leaks
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Israel launches probe into firms exposed in tax haven leaks

Tax Authority says it will investigate if some 600 Israeli corporations and 850 shareholders evaded levies by using offshore accounts

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

A Bank Leumi in Jerusalem, November 16, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A Bank Leumi in Jerusalem, November 16, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel has launched a probe into companies and individuals exposed by the “Panama Papers” data leak to have holdings in offshore accounts.

The Israel Tax Authority announced Monday that it had opened an investigation after some 600 Israeli companies and 850 Israeli shareholders were listed in documents leaked from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

The investigation will look into the original source of the offshore funds, if accounts and assets were reported as required, and whether the necessary taxes were paid, the Tax Authority said in a statement.

The trove of over 11.5 million documents was published Sunday after a year-long investigation into the material.

View of a sign outside the building where Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm offices are placed in Panama City on April 3, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / RODRIGO ARANGUA)
A sign outside Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm offices in Panama City on April 3, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / RODRIGO ARANGUA)

According to the probe by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) with the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and other media, including Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, the leaked data, from 1975 to the end of last year, provides what the ICIJ described as a “never-before-seen view inside the offshore world.”

The documents, from 214,000 entities, detail the offshore holdings of a dozen current and former world leaders, as well as businessmen, criminals, celebrities and sports stars.

Dov Weissglass speaks at Tel Aviv University's INSS think tank in 2012 (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)
Dov Weissglass speaks at Tel Aviv University’s INSS think tank in 2012 (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

Among the Israeli names found in the leaked documents are those of top attorney Dov Weisglass, former bureau chief of the late prime minister Ariel Sharon; Jacob Engel, a businessman active in the African mining industry; and Idan Ofer, a member of one of Israel’s wealthiest families, according to Haaretz.

A branch of Bank Leumi — Israel’s second-largest bank — in Jersey, the Channel Islands, which provides a tax shelter to its customers, is also mentioned in the leak.

Israel's richest man, Idan Ofer, with his late father, Sammy Ofer (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Israel’s richest man, Idan Ofer, with his late father, Sammy Ofer (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Appearing in the documents does not necessarily imply wrongdoing, but in some cases proves offshore holdings and use of tax havens.

Moshe Asher, director of the Israel Tax Authority, said that while the reports “raise suspicions,” many Israelis with offshore accounts, including some of those mentioned in the reports, do report their assets in accordance with the law, the Israel Hayom daily reported.

However, he said, “some do not and we will be investigating the the reports extensively… I call on all those who have not reported their assets: Now is the time to do it.”

Asher is reported to have said that past investigations have uncovered unpaid taxes on billions of shekels hidden in offshore accounts.

In December 2014 Bank Haleumi paid $400 million in a settlement reached over an investigation into tax evasion schemes that involved American clients. The bank paid the US Department of Justice and the State of New York $270 million and $130 million respectively.

Others mentioned in the leaks include Mohammad Mustafa, a senior financial official and confidant of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who used offshore accounts to funnel money from Arab states to the Palestinians, according to the documents.

Times of Israel staff, AP and AFP contributed to this report.

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