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Israeli court sentences model Bar Refaeli for tax evasion

FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2019 file photo, Israeli top model Bar  Refaeli poses for photographers at the Dior ready to wear Fall-Winter 2019-2020 collection, in Paris. Refaeli has signed a plea bargain agreement with authorities to settle a long-standing tax evasion case against her and her family. The deal will require Refaeli to serve nine months of community service while her mother will be sent to prison for 16 months. The two are also ordered to pay a $1.5 million fine on top of millions of back taxes owed to the state. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2019 file photo, Israeli top model Bar Refaeli poses for photographers at the Dior ready to wear Fall-Winter 2019-2020 collection, in Paris. Refaeli has signed a plea bargain agreement with authorities to settle a long-standing tax evasion case against her and her family. The deal will require Refaeli to serve nine months of community service while her mother will be sent to prison for 16 months. The two are also ordered to pay a $1.5 million fine on top of millions of back taxes owed to the state. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TEL AVIV, Israel – An Israeli court sentenced top model Bar Refaeli on Sunday to nine months of community service and sentenced her mother to 16 months in prison, ending a prolonged tax evasion case that had sullied the image of a once-beloved national icon.

Refaeli entered the Tel Aviv courthouse in a beige T-shirt and wearing a light blue surgical face mask. She was accompanied by her father, Raffi, her mother, Zipi, and flanked by lawyers. The 35-year-old Refaeli and her mother were convicted in July on offenses of evading paying taxes on income nearing $10 million.

According to a plea bargain accepted by the court, the two were also ordered to pay a $1.5 million fine on top of millions of back taxes owed to the state. Zipi Refaeli is set to begin serving her prison sentence next week.

The prolonged case, built around the celebrity model’s worldwide income and the family’s attempts to downplay her ties to Israel, damaged her well-crafted public image as an informal ambassador for the country.

Still, she remains a popular TV personality and pitch-woman whose image is ubiquitous on highway billboards throughout the country. Last year, she hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv.

The case centers around Refaeli’s residence during years when she traveled around the world in high-profile modeling campaigns, graced the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition and had a lengthy romantic relationship with Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Israeli tax law determines residency primarily upon whether the person spent most of the calendar year in the country. Refaeli claimed that she hadn’t and therefore did not have to declare her income during certain years.

Prosecutors rejected her claim and charged her with providing incorrect tax information. Refaeli’s indictment said she earned some $7.2 million between the years 2009-2012 while claiming to reside overseas to avoid paying Israeli taxes on her income.

In previous appeals, an Israeli court ruled that Refaeli’s relationship with DiCaprio did not qualify as a “family unit,” and therefore she could not claim his U.S. residence to avoid paying the full taxes she owed.

Refaeli’s lawyers said the plea bargain proved she had not intentionally evaded paying taxes. Refaeli’s mother, who also acted as her agent, was charged with failure to report income, avoiding paying taxes and aiding someone else in evading tax payments. The indictment said she signed leases for her daughter under the names of other family members to blur Refaeli’s actual residency status and refrained from declaring her own income as her daughter’s agent.