Opposition MKs took action in response to reports that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu maintained an offshore account in Jersey, a tax haven, while he was finance minister.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal- On and party MK Ilan Gilon wrote a letter to the Tax Authority Thursday asking for details as to when Netanyahu reported the account, how often he did so and how many reports he sent.
“Netanyahu’s behavior may be legal, but it stinks,” Gal-On and Gilon wrote.
“Just like his scented candles and grandiose flights, which are not illegal, this goes against the basic morals that should guide every citizen and certainly whoever claims to be a leader.
Whoever earns what Netanyahu did in the years [he held the bank account] and dares not pay taxes here is robbing the government of money, stealing services to citizens and laughing in the face of whoever cannot or will not open offshore accounts on exotic islands.”
MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) submitted a bill requiring lawmakers to publicly report any offshore bank accounts they might have.
“People have offshore accounts in order to pay a lower tax rate,” Michaeli said. “It’s legal, but the public should know if its representatives are taking such actions so they can decide whether or not they want to elect someone who takes less of a part in the tax burden.”
According to Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, “Netanyahu should run for prime minister of the Isle of Jersey, where he deposited his money in order to not pay taxes here. That is the opposite of Zionism, love for the country and concern for its citizens.”
Yacimovich said having an offshore bank account was “audacious [and] lacking in transparency [and] modesty,” and that it set a “bad example.” The former opposition leader also pointed out that Netanyahu held the account at a time he cut the education budget and welfare for the elderly.
“There is a massive gap between Netanyahu’s behavioral norms and lifestyle, and the public he’s supposed to represent,” she said.
Yacimovich said she planned to resubmit a bill that had been rejected several times, making the declaration of assets MKs are required to submit to the Knesset transparent to the public.
Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud Beytenu) defended Netanyahu, saying he had the right to manage his finances like any other citizen.
“Attempts to present holding a totally legal bank account abroad as problematic misrepresents the truth and looks like personal persecution,” Hotovely stated.
On Wednesday, the financial newspaper Globes reported that in the years following Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister, when he was paid for speaking engagements around the world, he held an account at the Royal Bank of Scotland in Jersey.
Off-shore bank accounts are legal as long as they are reported to the tax authorities.
However, by opening an account in a tax haven, Netanyahu avoided his own reform, enacted while he was finance minister. In addition, the tax authority, to which he had to report the account, was his ministerial responsibility.
The account in Jersey was also used while he was foreign minister.
The Global Financial Centers Index ranked Jersey as the top tax haven in the world in 2010.
The Globes report’s “attempt to discredit Prime Minister Netanyahu” did “not match the facts,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
“The account is not active since 2003. In 1999, after he finished his first term as prime minister, Netanyahu made an investment that did not give him any advantage over the taxes in Israel.
The accounts and deposits were reported in full to the authorities in Israel, including the Israeli tax authorities, and was included in his declaration of wealth,” the statement said.