JERUSALEM (AP) — The United States sold the ambassador's residence in Israel for more than $67 million in July, according to an official Israeli record of the sale, which the State Department only confirmed several weeks later without detailing the implications for American taxpayers.
The State Department confirmed the sale in September but refused to identify the buyer or disclose the sale price of the sprawling beachfront compound in the upscale Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya. It has also declined to say how much the U.S. government is now paying to lease the property.
The Israeli business newspaper Globes has identified the buyer as the U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a strong supporter of both President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A representative of Adelson said the billionaire had no comment.
At more than $67 million, it appears to be the most expensive single residence ever sold in Israel.
The sale helped to cement Trump's controversial decision to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem in 2018 and to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. By selling the residence, it would make it harder for future presidents to reverse the decision to move the embassy. President-elect Joe Biden has criticized the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem but says he will not reverse it.
Israel seized east Jerusalem in the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. Nearly all countries maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv because of the dispute over east Jerusalem.
Records posted by Israel's tax authority on Monday show that the sale of the official residence was concluded on July 31, several weeks before the State Department acknowledged it. They list the sale price as 230,353,536 Israeli shekels. That's $67,592,000 according to that day's official exchange rate.
In Israel, the sale price listed by the tax authority almost always matches the actual sale price, but in exceptional cases — for example, when a property is gifted to someone — the two may differ.
On Aug. 31, a month after the sale, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement that “it made sense” to sell the residency and said it expected the sale “to move ahead in the coming months.”
Just over a week later, the U.S. Embassy said “the buyer was selected solely on the basis of having submitted the highest and best offer.” It refused to say how many bids were made or identify any of the potential buyers.
Under the deal, Ambassador David Friedman, a driving force in the move of the embassy, will continue living at the estate until the spring of 2021, with the U.S. government leasing the property.
Congressional aides told The Associated Press in September that lawmakers in the House and Senate were looking into whether the sale of the residence complied with regulations.
The State Department has not said how much rent is being charged to U.S. taxpayers. When asked about the newly published record of the sale, the U.S. Embassy referred to its past statements and did not provide further comment.
The Israeli real-estate office that brokered the deal referred all questions to the U.S. Embassy.