NEWS

Court indicts businessman for ‘bribing Sharon’

TEL AVIV (Combined reports) – An Israeli court yesterday indicted a businessman on charges of bribing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Justice Ministry officials said they were considering indicting Sharon as well. Analysts said the indictment against real estate developer David Appel increases the chances that Sharon himself may face charges – a move the Supreme Court has ruled would compel him to leave office pending the outcome of a trial. The indictment ties Sharon to Appel’s so-called Greek Island resort plans at the end of the 1990s, when the businessman helped Sharon in the race for the Likud leadership. (It is unclear which Greek island or islands were involved.) Appel’s aid came after Sharon, as foreign minister, tried to win Greek government approval for Appel’s plan in various ways, including holding an event in honor of the Greek deputy foreign minister at the time. At a later stage, Appel increased the bribe by paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to Sharon’s son, Gilad, on contracts for fictitious work. Appel hired Gilad, ostensibly as a marketing adviser on the Greek island project. From evidence in police hands, Appel continued paying Gilad Sharon even when it was evident the Greek island plan was going nowhere, so Sharon could continue helping Appel with his real estate deals. The indictment also included Appel’s suspected dealings with Sharon’s deputy, Ehud Olmert, from the period when the latter was mayor of Jerusalem in the 1990s. Appel provided Olmert with activists and logistics, anticipating Olmert’s help on the Greek island initiative, according to the indictment. The indictment also said that Olmert lent his patronage to an event in honor of the Athens mayor, to help advance Appel’s venture in Greece. Appel’s lawyer, Moshe Israel, denied the charges. «There is no doubt he is innocent,» he said. Meanwhile, officials in Sharon’s office said: «The prime minister continues to work as scheduled and has not changed anything in his work.» Justice Ministry officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a decision on whether to indict Sharon would be made in the coming weeks or months, after the investigation is completed. Nonetheless, opposition lawmakers called on the prime minister to quit. «He should resign,» said former Finance Minister Avraham Shochat of the Labor Party. «He is polluting the atmosphere.» Sharon, an ex-general, has always been a fighter in the political arena. Opposition lawmaker Yossi Sarid said that if cornered, Sharon might use diversionary tactics, with dangerous implications for peace. (AP, Haaretz)