Major Israeli bank to pay $195m penalty for US tax-avoidance scheme

Mizrahi-Tefahot one of three banks targeted by Justice Department for helping US citizens avoid paying taxes by stashing their assets in offshore accounts

A Bank Mizrahi branch in Jerusalem (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
A Bank Mizrahi branch in Jerusalem (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

One of Israel’s largest banks agreed to pay $195 million for helping US citizens avoid paying taxes by stashing their assets in offshore accounts, officials said Tuesday.

The US attorney’s office said Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank Ltd. and two subsidiaries acknowledged guilt Tuesday in a deferred prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice filed in a California court.

The bank, Israel’s third-largest, has more than 4,000 employees and a Los Angeles branch.

In court documents, Mizrahi-Tefahot acknowledged that from 2002 until 2012 it conspired with US clients to avoid taxes on assets and securities by opening and maintaining offshore accounts under false or code names or through foreign entities.

The bank agreed to pay the government $53 million in restitution, plus the $24 million in fees it earned from the transactions and a $118 million fine.

In August, the bank said it rejected a $342 million offer by the US Justice Department to settle the investigation. Until then, the bank had set aside some $45 million to cover a potential settlement with the US authorities.

US authorities targeted three Israeli banks with investigations regarding tax evasion in the US by customers. In 2014, Bank Leumi Le-Israel Ltd. agreed to pay some $400 million to US regulators to settle a criminal probe after admitting it helped US taxpayers hide assets.

An investigation into Bank Hapoalim Ltd is ongoing.

As of February last year, Hapoalim had set aside some $343 million for the investigation, warning that the overall exposure could be even higher.

The investigations have caused Israeli banks to decrease their activities abroad, and there has been a dramatic drop in the number of deposits held by foreign residents in Israeli banks, the Bank of Israel has said. In the past 10 years, almost NIS 70 billion ($19 billion) worth of deposits by foreign residents have left Israel’s banking system, according to central bank data.

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