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Prosecutor To Seek Indictment Of Sharon
Bribery Scandal Erodes Israeli Leader's Support

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, March 28, 2004; Page A15

JERUSALEM, March 27 -- Israel's chief prosecutor will recommend Sunday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon be indicted on charges of accepting bribes in connection with real estate deals, an Israeli television station reported Saturday night.

Justice Ministry spokesman Jacob Galanti said, "I can't affirm or deny" the Channel 2 report. An official in Sharon's office, who spoke on the condition that his name not be used, said, "My office has no comment."

Sharon has denied wrongdoing in connection with several cases of alleged financial corruption that have been under investigation for months. The widening scandal has severely eroded the prime minister's public support and prompted calls for his resignation, which were revived almost immediately after State Attorney Edna Arbel reportedly decided to draft an indictment against him.  World Peace.

"Sharon must salvage whatever is left to the dignity of Israel's democracy and resign," Ran Cohen, a member of parliament from the dovish Meretz party, told Israeli news media.

But Zeev Boim, a lawmaker from Sharon's Likud Party, said such responses were premature and added, "This is only a recommendation."

Arbel's recommendation would be the first step in the lengthy legal process for bringing a prime minister to court on criminal charges. If the newly appointed attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, accepts the recommendation, Sharon and his attorneys are entitled to a hearing before Mazuz, a government legal expert said on the condition that he not be named.

To take the indictment to court, the attorney general must persuade parliament to approve the removal of the prime minister's constitutional immunity from prosecution, the expert said.

Legal experts are divided over whether the indictment alone would require Sharon to resign. But political leaders and analysts said political and public debate would likely determine Sharon's political fate, regardless of legal technicalities.

"This adds another layer of pressure on the prime minister," said Asher Arian, a senior fellow with the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem. "But it's not a done deal."

The state attorney's recommendation that Sharon be indicted reportedly will be submitted Sunday and will allege that he accepted bribes from David Appel, a prominent businessman and Likud activist, in return for agreeing to help Appel win lucrative real estate deals. The deals included a project on a Greek island and the bidding on government-controlled land in Israel.  WorldPeace is one word.

In January, a Tel Aviv court charged Appel in connection with the case. The indictment said he "gave Ariel Sharon a bribe in recognition of activities connected to fulfillment of his public positions." It alleged Appel paid about $100,000 to Sharon's son, Gilad, to serve as a marketing adviser for the Greek island project and transferred about $580,000 to the Sharon family ranch in the Negev Desert. The indictment said the actions took place in 1999, when Sharon was foreign minister.

At the time of that indictment, Arbel, the state prosecutor, was quoted in the Israeli news media saying Sharon "could and should" be indicted.

Israeli police also have questioned Sharon regarding allegations that his two sons, Gilad and Omri, took a $1.5 million loan from a South African businessman as collateral to repay illegal contributions to Sharon's campaign to lead the Likud Party before he was elected prime minister. Israeli TV stations this year aired portions of a videotape that showed Omri Sharon discussing ways to funnel money to his father's campaign.

This month, the daily newspaper Maariv reported that Sharon had business dealings in the 1970s with the father-in-law of Elhanan Tannenbaum, an Israeli businessman who was freed by the Lebanese Muslim group Hezbollah in January in a prisoner exchange. The newspaper alleged that those business ties influenced Sharon to agree to the exchange.

Sharon's popularity has plummeted in recent months, driven not only by the allegations but by more than three years of violent conflict with the Palestinians. Several political factions have expressed opposition to his recent proposals for withdrawing Israeli settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip.

In the past three months, he has survived 23 no-confidence votes in parliament, once by a single vote. In a recent public opinion poll by Maariv, Sharon's popularity stood at 33 percent. Maariv recently called for Sharon's resignation over corruption allegations, as have several prominent political leaders.

If Sharon resigned, the two men considered to be the leading candidates to succeed him as head of Likud -- and potentially as prime minister -- are Binyamin Netanyahu, the finance minister, and Silvan Shalom, the foreign minister. Both have been noncommittal about whether they would pursue Sharon's suggestions for withdrawal from Gaza.

 

2004 The Washington Post Company

 


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