Israel's Largest Bank Sets Aside $70 Million to Settle U.S. Tax Evasion Probe

Move comes after Bank Hapoalim sets aside $50 million for same investigation, in which U.S. authorities probe whether bank helped American clients evade U.S. taxes at its Swiss unit.

A Tel Aviv branch of Bank Hapoalim, June 13, 2016.
David Bachar

Bank Hapoalim, Israel's largest bank, said on Thursday it would make a further provision estimated at $70 million for settling a U.S. tax evasion investigation which could have "a significant impact" on its third-quarter results.

The $70 million would be in addition to $50 million Hapoalim has already set aside for this matter, in which U.S. authorities are investigating whether the bank helped American clients evade U.S. taxes at its Swiss unit.

The provision follows a meeting Hapoalim representatives had with members of the U.S. Department of Justice on September 30 regarding a possible settlement between the two sides.

The bank said the provision did not relate to a separate investigation being carried out by the New York Department of Financial Services.

Hapoalim has denied the allegations.

Its main domestic rival Leumi paid $400 million in fines in late 2014 to settle two investigations into whether it helped U.S. clients evade taxes.

Barclays analyst Tavy Rosner said the final amount Hapoalim might have to pay to the DOJ could be significantly higher.

Noting that this announcement could weigh on Hapoalim's share price, Rosner said that assuming the $70 million provision is not tax-deductible, his quarterly net profit estimate would need to be revised down to 629 million shekels ($167 million).

The U.S. investigations have weighed on Hapoalim's shares and are the main justification for Barclays' "underweight" rating, Rosner said.

"Today’s announcement shows that the bank is now having face-to-face conversations with the U.S. authorities, which could pave the way for a settlement in the coming months, in our view," he said.