TEL AVIV, Israel -- An Israeli court
Wednesday indicted an Israeli businessman on charges of bribing Ariel
Sharon, further complicating the prime minister's clouded legal
Analysts said the indictment against
real estate developer David Appel increases the chances that Sharon
himself may face charges -- a move that would compel him to leave
office. Sharon was not charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
Opposition lawmakers urged the prime minister to resign.
Appel was indicted in the Tel Aviv
Magistrates court for giving Sharon hundreds of thousands of dollars
to promote an ambitious real estate project in Greece when Sharon was
foreign minister in 1999, and to help rezone urban land near Tel Aviv
both before and during his term as prime minister.
"During [1998-99] ... [Appel] gave
Ariel Sharon a bribe in recognition of activities connected to the
fulfillment of his public positions," the indictment says.
It said Appel had paid $100,000 and 2.6
million shekels ($590,000) to Sharon's family ranch in the Negev
desert. Appel, a powerful activist in Sharon's Likud Party, also
promised his support to Sharon during two election campaigns, the
The indictment also charged Appel with
providing bribes to Vice Premier Ehud Olmert to promote the Greek
project when Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem in the late 1990s.
It also charged that Sharon's son,
Gilad, had been hired as a consultant in the Greek project, serving as
a middleman in accepting the bribes.
There was no immediate reaction from
the prime minister or Olmert. But the Yediot Ahronot daily quoted
officials in Sharon's office as playing down the indictment and
projecting a "business as usual" atmosphere. In order for
Sharon to be charged, prosecutors must be convinced that a bribe was
accepted with criminal intent.
But the move added uncertainty to
Sharon's legal problems. Sharon is also being investigated for alleged
involvement in illegal campaign financing. Prosecutors suspect a $1.5
million loan was provided by foreign businessmen during his 1999
primary campaign for Likud Party leadership.
Moshe Negbi, Israel Radio's legal
affairs analyst, said "it is not reasonable to believe that
Sharon did not know what this money was being offered for." In
case of an indictment, the prime minister would be obligated to
suspend himself from office.
Even if Sharon isn't charged, public
pressure and anger within the ruling Likud Party could force him to
step down, political analyst Emmanuel Rosen said on Army Radio.
Opposition lawmakers called on the
prime minister to step down.
"The prime minister should resign
from his post. He should already have resigned in the light of earlier
events, what happened today is just an extra. He is polluting the
atmosphere," said former Finance Minister Avraham Shochat of the