JERUSALEM (Jun. 15)
As a general, Ariel Sharon proved adept at avoiding land mines. As prime minister, he has done the same in the political arena. Sharon’s latest successful circumvention came Tuesday, when Israel’s attorney general announced that there was not enough evidence to press charges against Sharon on allegations of bribery.
Menachem Mazuz’s decision to drop the long-running case against the prime minister came as no surprise, as media reports in recent weeks had predicted the decision.
“The evidence in this case does not meet the requirement of suggesting a reasonable chance of conviction — not even close,” Mazuz, in his first major public appearance since taking office in January, told reporters in Jerusalem after a nationally televised news conference.
Mazuz reportedly called the prime minister shortly before the news conference to inform him of the decision, and Sharon replied, “Thank you very much,” according to sources.
Shar! on consistently had denied allegations that he took a bribe from real estate magnate David Appel, a Sharon friend who employed Sharon’s son Gilad in the 1990s to serve as a adviser in his bid to win development rights for a lucrative Greek island resort.
Appel has been charged with trying to secure the help of Sharon, then Israel’s foreign minister, by paying Gilad Sharon hundreds of thousands of dollars to serve as Appel’s adviser on the development project.
The so-called Greek Island Affair, which became public last year, compounded two other funding scandals dogging the prime minister and drew calls from the Israeli opposition for Sharon’s resignation.
Sharon still faces the possibility of charges in another case, also involving Sharon’s family. That case involves a $1.5 million loan Sharon’s sons took from Cyril Kern, a family friend and businessman in South Africa, to cover illegal campaign contributions in Sharon’s 1999 bid for the Likud Party leadership. An indictment recommendation by Mazuz in the Appel case would have m ade Sharon the first sitting prime minister to face criminal charges in Israel’s history. In March, then-state prosecutor Edna Arbel recommended that the prime minister be indicted.
But Mazuz was unequivocal in clearing Sharon.
“It should be remembered that for more than two years, the police listened in to Appel’s two phone lines, recording thousands of conversations. Nonetheless, these wiretaps yielded no evidence, either direct or indirect, for substantiating the suspicion that Sharon was bribed by Appel,” Mazuz said. “It is a deafening silence.”
Mazuz also closed the case against Gilad Sharon. Though the Greek island project never panned out, Mazuz took the trouble to note Gilad’s “professionalism” as an adviser for Appel, a post that earned him more than $20,000 per month.
Sharon’s political detractors cried foul after Mazuz’s announcement.
“What does the attorney-general expect — for the tainted money to be put on his desk so he can touch it himself?” ! asked Yossi Sarid, a lawmaker from the liberal Meretz party.
Sarid vowed to petition the High Court of Justice to overturn Mazuz’s decision.
But with the main opposition Labor Party negotiating with Sharon’s Likud on a possible national unity coalition to push through Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan, Sarid’s bid was unlikely to enjoy broad support from Sharon’s political opponents on the left.
“I see this as the end of the affair,” Justice Minister Yosef “Tommy” Lapid said after the announcement. “Now that the case has been closed thus, the time has come for Labor to join the government.”