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Three Angles to the Sharon Investigation

What appeared a few months ago to be shaping up to be a landslide victory for the Likud and Ariel Sharon is now just a long series of question marks. The latest, and possibly most disruptive, bombshell is the revelation that the police are investigating Prime Minister Sharon and his sons regarding various monies the three received. The revelation has ramifications of a legal, political and media
First Publish: 1/8/2003, 11:39 AM

What appeared a few months ago to be shaping up to be a landslide victory for the Likud and Ariel Sharon is now just a long series of question marks. The latest, and possibly most disruptive, bombshell is the revelation that the police are investigating Prime Minister Sharon and his sons regarding various monies the three received. The revelation has ramifications of a legal, political and media nature.

The legal issue involves a loan Gilad Sharon received from a South African millionaire, a long-time friend of the Prime Minister. The loan was for the purpose of paying back a sum that the State Comptroller ordered Ariel Sharon to return; his son paid it back in full and even paid tax on the profits. The suspicions are, however, that the low-interest loan may have been a form of a bribe, and that the loan was given by a company owned by the South African, thus that the Comptoller's order was never carried out.

The millionaire in question, Cyril Kern, says that he cannot understand the "character assassination" being perpetrated upon Sharon. He said that he is a long-time friend of Sharon from their fighting days together in the 1948 War of Independence, that he was happy to help him out with a loan, and that he has never had any business interests in Israel.

Politically, the Likud had been hoping that the corruption suspicions against it, and the resultant loss of electoral support, had neared the end of their rope, and that the party could begin gaining back support as Election Day nears. The latest story, however, could "trip the switch" on another downfall, leaving the final election outcome in major doubt. Likud insiders had long said that as long as the corruption suspicions touch only the low-level Knesset candidates - later they sufficed with just higher-level MKs - they would be OK. Now that Prime Minister Sharon himself is involved, party officials are wondering if the party can recover in the remaining 20 days.

The story also has a media angle. Who leaked the story, at such critical timing before the election, to the press? Attorney-General Elyakim Rubenstein is said to be "furious" at the leak, and Justice Ministry officials have blamed the police for leaking word on the six-month-old investigation. The Police Department denies that it is the source. Staffers in the Likud campaign headquarters say that the leak was "intentional and deceitful," and "the media and the leakers have banded together to lie to the public in order to replace the government."

Benny Mazagini, whose boss Naomi Blumental was recently fired by Sharon for having remained silent in the face of police questioning, had a strong reaction to the case. "As a Prime Minister who seeks the confidence of the nation," Mazagini told Ynet, "he must tell whatever he knows of this story, and not hide behind his advisors. If he is unable to explain this to the public before the elections, he should resign."