Advancing on the peace front, Sharon is now threatened by criminal investigations.
minister of Israel doesn't urge his sons to cooperate
with the police, what will ordinary citizens say?"
asked Michael Eitan, chairman of the Knesset's Law
t the height of his powers, skillfully con-
Rubinstein publicly castigated Gilad Sharon's
ducting a complex process of negotiation
silence and his refusal to hand over key documents,
with the Palestinians and enjoying wide-
knowing that the prime minister's parliamentary
spread popularity, Prime Minister Ariel
immunity kept the family farm off-limits to a police
Sharon could be forced to resign over a string of
financial scandals in which he and his sons are prin-
Pressure on Sharon escalated when Austrian law
enforcement officials last week turned down an
That, at least, is the view of many Israeli pundits
Israeli police request to pursue their inquiries in
and politicians, some of whom already are gearing up Vienna. Coming just days after Israel and Austria
for a post-Sharon era.
restored diplomatic ties, the Austrian
What suddenly has telescoped the
decision led to speculation that Sharon
process and given it a more urgent time
had agreed to restore ties if Austria
frame is Israel Attorney General Elyakim
blocked further investigation of the
Rubinstein's decision to leave office next
transfer of a controversial $1.49 million
January. Before he does, he is expected to
• loan from Vienna's Bawag Bank to a Tel
issue a comprehensive report on the
Aviv bank account run by the prime
Even if there is no criminal prosecution,
Some leading politicians see a strong
Rubinstein's condemnation of Sharon's eth-
chance of Sharon being forced to
ical conduct is likely to be so devastating
that pressure will intensify on Sharon to
Shimon Peres, chairman of the oppo-
resign, observers say.
sition Labor Party, urged party col-
Sharon and his sons have been named or
leagues to be ready for a change at the
investigated in four cases of suspected mis-
top. In the Likud, two prime ministerial
demeanor or felony:
aspirants — Finance Minister Benjamin
• A mysterious loan from an Austrian
Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Silvan
Shalom — discussed a possible alliance
• The so-called "Greek island affair," in
• to head off potential leadership bids by
which Sharon's son Gilad was paid huge
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and
sums of money by a leading Likud activist
Trade and Industry Minister Ehud
when Sharon was foreign minister and,
▪ Olmert if Sharon leaves office.
later, a candidate for party leader;
• The Austrian loan affair goes back to
• Building permits for that same activist
Sharon's 1999 campaign for Likud lead-
in the town of Lod; and
ership. After the campaign, Sharon's
• The proposed rezoning of agricultural
elder son Omri, now a Knesset mem-
land in the center of the country, where
ber, was questioned by police about
the Sharons have a second farm.
whether he illegally used "paper" com-
panies to raise campaign funds.
As part of an effort to return an illicit
contribution from a company called
Criticism has grown over the past few
"Annex Research," Cyril Kern, a family
weeks as Gilad Sharon twice invoked his right to
friend based in South Africa, transferred $1.49 mil-
remain silent during police interrogation. Last
lion through an Austrian bank to the Sharon broth-
December, Sharon fired Naomi Blumenthal, the
ers. They then used the money as collateral for an
deputy infrastructure minister, after she kept silent
Israeli bank loan to repay an earlier loan that had
during an investigation of bribery allegations in the
been used to repay Annex.
Likud Party primaries. The right to silence is not
Police are investigating why the repayment process
something to which elected officials should resort,
was so circuitous; whether Kern's loan could be con-
Sharon declared at the time.
sidered a gift that officeholders are forbidden to
Though Gilad Sharon does not hold public office,
accept; whether the source of the money really was
legal experts say his silence in affairs involving his
Kern or whether it was the same people behind
father is tantamount to a public figure remaining
Annex Research, who Sharon was supposed to be
paying back, and how Gilad Sharon was able to
Even Likud Knesset members were outraged at
repay all the loans within the space of a few months.
Sharon's perceived double standard. "If the prime
Sharon has not addressed the issue beyond a news
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
conference he gave during the last Knesset elections.
The news conference was blacked out after Sharon
launched an attack on his Labor Party challenger,
running afoul of Israel's election propaganda laws.
In the "Greek island" and Lod affairs, the common
denominator is Likud activist and land developer
David Appel. In the late 1990s, Appel, who was try-
ing to lease the Greek island of Patroklos for a
tourism project, hired Gilad Sharon as a consultant.
At the same time, he allegedly was seeking the inter-
cession of Ariel Sharon — then the foreign minister
— with Greek authorities.
Appel allegedly paid Gilad Sharon, a young econo-
mist with no experience in tourism, $25,000 a
month for marketing, a down payment of $300,000
and a promise of $3 million if the deal went through
— which it never did.
As prime minister, Sharon allegedly intervened to
promote plans to develop areas to the east of Lod —
where Appel owns land — despite objections by
municipal and planning authorities. The move raised
suspicions of a payoff.
In the land-zoning affair, Sharon was severely chas-
tised by both the attorney general and the state
comptroller for taking an active part in a 2002 deci-
sion that affected family-owned land in Moshav Kfar
Malal, where Sharon was born. Rubinstein closed the
case on the grounds that there was no evidence of
criminality, though he blasted Sharon's conduct.
In a signed editorial, Israel's Yediot Achronot news-
paper suggested that the Israeli right — which feels
threatened by the "road map" peace plan — would
not be overly saddened to see Sharon embroiled in
legal complications as a result of the investigations.
Eitan Haber, former bureau chief to former Prime
Minister Yitzhak Rabin and one of the paper's top
journalists, wrote that Sharon's strongest supporters
now are on the left because they know he is the only
Israeli leader with sufficient standing to produce a
peace agreement with the Palestinians and make it
"If Sharon is truly bent on peace, on establishing a
Palestinian state and uprooting Jewish settlements,
there are many on the right who will dance on the
rooftops if and when the attorney general decides to
implicate Sharon in his sons' affairs," Haber asserts.
"But for people on the left, it would be a tragedy of
Sharon's resignation would not necessarily spark
new elections; the Likud simply could choose a new
leader, who would take over as prime minister if he is
confirmed by a majority of the Knesset. If so, that
new leader could adopt policies toward the
Palestinians that are very different from Sharon's,
whose positions are too conciliatory for much of his