U.S. Informed Israel: Netanyahu and His Wife Have American Bank Accounts

IRS says Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu among 40,000 Israelis with financial assets in the U.S. ■ Accounts revived dividends ■ Netanyahus in response: a All funds are put in a blind trust and were reported

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara in Tel Aviv, August 9, 2017
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara in Tel Aviv, August 9, 2017Credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS
Uri Blau
Uri Blau

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu had financial assets in the United States until 2015 at least, according to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s list of Israeli citizens with active bank accounts for 2014 and 2015.

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The list was given to the Israel Tax Authority last year as part of an agreement between the two countries to share tax-related data in their war against tax evasion and the black market.

The fact that the prime minister and his wife appear on the list doesn’t signal in any way that they are suspected of evading taxes, but Israeli authorities are expected to use the list, like others it has received from cooperating tax authorities around the world, to check whether Israelis have been correctly reporting on their foreign holdings.

The Netanyahus appear on the list together with 40,000 additional Israelis. The list doesn’t provide information on the total the couple held but it does detail dividend payouts, which amounted to $7,000 in 2014 and $6,000 in 2015 for the prime minister. Under Sara Netanyahu the dividends payments were a much smaller $300 and $200, respectively.

The dividends the prime minster received for those two years were relatively high compared to others on the list, but that doesn’t provide any insight into the value of his financial assets. Among other reasons, not all investment pay dividends.

The transfer of information like this is part of a global effort in the framework of the Organization for Economic Cooperative and Development to crack down on the black market.

The basis for the cooperation is the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which aims to prevent American citizens from concealing their assets abroad by requiring foreign financial Institutions to report on the foreign assets held by their U.S. account holders.

FATCA was approved by Congress in 2010 and Israel signed on to cooperative four years later, which means the two countries share lists of American citizens with financial assets in Israel and Israeli citizens with assets in the U.S. The Netanyahus appear on the second list.

Starting this year, Israeli authorities will get additional information on Israelis, including how much they hold in American financial accounts, including bank and investment accounts. Having a foreign bank account isn’t illegal so long as the holder reports it accurately.

Under Israeli law, within two months after assuming office, the prime minister, ministers, deputy minsters and their families are required to transfer management of their investment to an independent trustee as a blind trust. The idea is to prevent any conflict of interest between policymakers and their private interests.

In February 2016, Netanyahu asked the permissions committee in the State Comptroller’s Office to make changes to his Israeli and foreign accounts. The request was approved. He made a similar request in August 2012 that was similarly approved but Netanyahu later retracted it.

Four years ago, it was revealed that between 1999 and 2003, Netanyahu had a bank account at the Bank of Scotland on the Isle of Jersey, a English Channel island that serves as a tax shelter, even as he began serving as a cabinet minister from the end of 2002.

Netanyahu said at the time that the account had been inactive since 2003.

Netanyahu is regarded as one of Israel’s richest politicians. In 2015 Forbes estimated his worth at 42 million shekels ($12.1 million). In any case, the capital declarations required from time to time by the tax authority isn’t revealed to the public even for public figures.

In response to questions about the investments held by Netanyahus, as well as information about who manages the accounts and in what other countries the couple has investments, the Prime Minister’s Office responded: “The assets of the prime minister and his wife are held in a blind trust and a reported lawfully as required by the tax authority and in a capital declaration.”

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