Police to examine laptop data in Sharon corruption scandal

Sharon had been investigated in a series of corruption scandals
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israeli police are to access computer data which they believe will show Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s family received an alleged $3 million bribe, public radio reported on Wednesday.

Police officials confirmed late Tuesday that several laptop computers and mobile phones belonging to the family of Austrian financier Martin Schlaff had been seized during a raid in December.

Investigators believe the data contains fresh evidence which will enable them to move forward with a long-running investigation into a corruption scandal surrounding the Sharon family that concerns illegal campaign contributions during the 1999 elections.

Until now, police have been unable to examine the equipment following a legal appeal by Schlaff’s brother, James, that saw a court order temporarily prevent them from accessing the data, police said.

However, Schlaff has since gone back on his complaint, meaning police will have access to the data “within the coming days,” public radio said.

Police believe some of the money was used by the Sharon family to pay back campaign contributions which were subsequently deemed illegal.

The story emerged late Tuesday after Israel’s private Channel 10 television obtained a police document outlining their suspicions that was submitted earlier this week to a magistrates court near Tel Aviv.

Lior Horev, Sharon’s strategic adviser, dismissed the report out of hand, suggesting it was an attempt to muckrake by elements with a political agenda.

“What have we discovered this morning that we have not seen during the last three and a half years that this investigation has been ongoing, aside from the fact that someone has asked to investigate the Schlaff brothers’ computers?” he asked.

“They have taken a technical legal procedure with absolutely no significant and have exploited it for cynical purposes in order to get on Sharon’s back two or three months before the elections,” he charged.

Sharon had been investigated in a series of other corruption scandals, such as the Greek Island Affair, but not once in the last three years had any police or official from the attorney general’s office asked to investigate the premier in connection with this issue, he said.

Roni Bar-On, chairman of Sharon’s centrist Kadima Party, also dismissed the report as a political leak aimed at disrupting the elections.

“Nothing has been formally presented to the prime minister, and since the issue was first made public, the prime minister has been reelected twice,” he said, noting that the corruption scandal was first made public just before the 2003 elections.

“And this time, it is the same story from the same source, with the same problematic timing — one or two months before the election.” Speaking to Israel public television, Nevot Teltsur, legal counsel for the Schlaff brothers, said there was nothing new in the police investigation and implied that the timing of the report was far from coincidental.

“I don’t know of any evidence which apparently proves such a thing,” he said late Tuesday.

“There has been no breakthrough in the investigation except for an additional leak from the file, maybe in order to keep this file live on the eve of the elections, which is something I view as extremely serious.”

Israeli politicians call on attorney general to decide whether to indict Sharon before March elections

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AP) — Opposition lawmakers from across the political spectrum demanded on Wednesday that Israeli police and the attorney general wrap up an investigation into new bribery allegations against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ahead of March 28 elections.

Accusations of corruption against Sharon first surfaced just before Israel’s last election in 2003. The scandal erupted again late Tuesday with Israel’s Channel 10 TV reporting that police have evidence that Sharon’s family received $3 million in bribes from an Austrian businessman who owns a casino in the West Bank town of Jericho.

Despite the accusations, opinion polls predict Sharon’s new centrist Kadima Party will win a landslide victory in the election.

Lagging far behind in the polls, the hardline Likud Party and the dovish Labour demanded Attorney General Meni Mazuz speedily announce whether there is enough evidence to indict Sharon.

“A prime minister who is gravely suspected of taking bribes of $3 million cannot run in this way in the upcoming election,” said Ofir Pines-Paz, a prominent Labour lawmaker.

“Either this cloud of suspicion will evaporate or it will lead to an indictment, but one of the two has to happen and therefore I have talked to the attorney general. He has to decide before the election,” Pines-Paz told Israel Radio.

The justice ministry declined to comment on the issue.

Police Spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said the timing of the elections was not a factor in the ongoing police investigation, but declined to say whether the probe could be completed in the coming months.

Likud lawmaker Michael Eitan called on Sharon to publicly address the allegations.

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