International super-model Bar Refaeli is now fighting legal battles on two fronts: civil and criminal. Both of them involve the same events in her life: her international breakthrough, the money she earned, and her well-publicized affair with Hollywood star Leonardo Di Caprio. The same question is involved: whether she resided in the US while this was taking place, or in Israel, with her stays in the US being nothing more than overseas forays.
On the civil front where Refaeli is facing a demand for payment of taxes on NIS 16 million income from her overseas work over a two-year span, the District Court ruled against her, and today, the Supreme Court is hearing her appeal against the ruling that she never severed her ties to Israel - that she was an Israel resident even during the years of her romance with Di Caprio.
More is at stake, however, than payment of NIS 8 million in taxes. Refaeli's civil case is in inextricably linked to the criminal case in which she is involved.
Money is not the real issue. The battle is over Refaeli's freedom. Her appeal to the Supreme Court being heard today will have a significant effect on any criminal proceedings against her. The facts are the same in the two cases. The areas of law are different, but victory or defeat in one of them will have fateful consequences for the other.
Why fateful? Because while in the civil case, Bar Refaeli faces only payment of taxes and fines for not reporting income, the penalty in the criminal case for concealing income can easily include a prison sentence.
This means that Bar Refaeli's fight to stay out of prison starts in the civil arena. Rulings in the civil case are not binding on the State Attorney's office, which will have to decide soon whether or not to file an indictment against her, nor on the court in which any indictment may be filed. If, however, an indictment is filed, but the Supreme Court rules in the civil case that Refaeli was a US resident during the disputed years, it will be more difficult for the law enforcement and judicial authorities to say, "No, she was not."
If the Supreme Court rules that Refaeli left Israel, that she had a serious and consistent relationship with Di Caprio, that his home was her home, and she was his common-law wife, it will cut the ground out from under the criminal proceedings. Most of the arguments in the criminal case concern Bar Refaeli's alleged misrepresentation of her residence and the fraud that she allegedly cooked up with her family in order to conceal the fact that she was a resident of Israel, not the US.
On the other hand, if Refaeli loses her Supreme Court appeal, the road for the law enforcement and judicial authorities to a criminal conviction will be clear. In this case, it cannot be ruled out that Refaeli will enter intensive plea bargaining with the State Attorney's Office. The outcomes of well-publicized cases in which the accused did not sigh such a plea, including that of singer Kobi Peretz, now serving a prison term for tax offenses, could lead her in this direction.
Not just a glance at Refaeli's private life
There is something else about Refaeli's appeal that must be mentioned: it is a fascinating legal document. This is not only because the person in the case creates unavoidable voyeurism in all of us when we get a brief peek at the most intimate details of her life. It is not only because of the glittering name of her then-partner, Leonard Di Caprio, and the collective public desire to know whether or not they were really in love. The legal arguments in this document are also fascinating. The appeal seeks to take us to the deepest meaning of a family unit in the modern era. Refaeli argues that the District Court ruled that she did not have a serious relationship with Di Caprio and did not have a family unit with him because they did not marry and did not have children.
The case also brings up the question of whether relationships in the jet set differ from relationships between non-celebrities. The appeal also involves the question of family and personal ties in a world without borders, in which it is not really necessary to break a tie when people move to another country. It seeks to contend with the question of whether, in an era in which flights have become an inexpensive and easily available product, and mobile telephones, social networks like Facebook and Instagram, and applications like WhatsApp, FaceTime, Snapchat, and Skype help us maintain a close visual connection at any time, anywhere in the world, it is necessary to reconsider the question of people's residence.
The importance of the ruling on these questions is not confined to Bar Refaeli; it affect many Israelis who leave Israel for a specific period and whose place of residence is somewhat unclear.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on July 18, 2019
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