Israeli PM’s son pleads guilty to perjury

TEL AVIV (AFP) — Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s son Omri pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges of providing false testimony and falsifying documents at the opening of his trial before a Tel Aviv court.
The trial follows a police investigation into allegations of illegal financing of Sharon’s successful 1999 campaign for the leadership of his right-wing Likud Party.

Although the sentence has yet to be decided, Omri’s guilty plea will automatically mean that he has to step down as a Likud MP.

Israeli public radio’s legal affairs commentator Mosheh Negbi said the false testimony charge carried a prison sentence of up to seven years and the forgery charge up to five.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz decided to press charges against Omri in July but had to wait until a bill was passed limiting MPs’ immunity against prosecution before the court formally indicted him in late August.

The prime minister himself was questioned by police but has always insisted he had no knowledge of the financing of his campaign, saying it was run exclusively by his son who is one of his closest advisors.

Key Sharon aide Dov Weisglass escaped indictment over the affair for “want of evidence.”

Prosecutors have said that a company controlled by Omri, named Annex Research, took contributions from companies in Israel and abroad worth some $1.3 million, which were all illegally ploughed into his father’s campaign.

Evidence taken from taped phone conversations and documents in 41-year-old Omri’s handwriting form part of the evidence against him, with prosecutors arguing he disguised the true purpose of Annex and effectively “laundered” the incoming funds.

Last year, the prime minister was cleared of involvement in a corruption probe into a property scandal known as the Greek island affair, in which he was suspected of accepting a bribe via his other son Gilad when he was foreign minister in the late 1990s.

Sharon’s government has been rocked by a number of corruption scandals since his 2003 election victory.

Public Security Minister Tzahi Hanegbi was forced to quit his post, but not the Cabinet, as police probed allegations that he appointed dozens of political allies to posts when he previously served as environment minister.

Infrastructure Minister Yusef Paritsky was also sacked after he was exposed for trying to incriminate a party colleague in the run-up to primary elections within his centrist faction.

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