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Thursday, Jan. 22, 2004.

Sharon Faces Indictment In Israel Bribery Scandal

By Peter Enav
The Associated Press

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 situation.

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 indictment said.

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 Labor Party.


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