July 26, 2005

Sharon’s son to be tried in Likud funds scandal

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Israeli Justice Ministry indicted
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's son on Tuesday in a campaign
funding scandal that has stoked anger among Jewish
ultranationalists opposed to the planned Gaza Strip withdrawal.

Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz cleared Sharon in the case
in February but said his son, Omri, would face charges
including fraud, breach of trust and perjury. The indictment, a
copy of which was obtained by Reuters, was formally served on

A spokesman for the prime minister, who arrived in Paris
for talks with French President Jacques Chirac, said Sharon had
been apprised of Mazuz's decision but had no comment on it.

Omri Sharon, a Likud Party lawmaker, responded to the
indictment by forfeiting his parliamentary immunity and
clearing the way for prosecution, Channel Two television said.

"The election laws are unrealistic, unreasonable and
absurd. I will make my case fully in court," it quoted him as

Allegations that shell companies were set up to funnel
foreign donations to Sharon's 1999 race for the Likud
leadership stirred speculation among some right-wingers that he
came up with the Gaza plan to distract the public from his
legal woes.

Sharon casts the pullout from occupied Gaza, slated to
begin next month, as "disengagement" from 4 1/2 years of
fighting with the Palestinians. He has denied wrongdoing in the
funds case, saying Omri and another son handled the primary

Mazuz cited lack of evidence in his decision not to indict
the prime minister. Related charges were dropped against two of
Sharon's former senior advisers, Dov Weisglass and Uri Shani.

Legal experts said Omri Sharon could face up to seven years
in prison if convicted. But Channel Two, citing Justice
Ministry sources, said Mazuz would seek a nine-month prison

Throughout a three-year probe, Omri Sharon -- widely
considered the eminence grise of Israeli politics -- and his
brother Gilad declined comment, invoking a right to silence.

Israel's Army Radio said Mazuz filed the indictment after
plea-bargain negotiations with Omri Sharon collapsed. According
to the report, the lawmaker demanded that he be spared prison
time. The Justice Ministry had no immediate comment.
(Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Paris)