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(photo credit: Gideon Markowicz)
The Movement for Quality Government sent letters on Wednesday to the Austrian and South African ambassadors in Tel Aviv pleading with them to persuade their governments to cooperate with an ongoing investigation into allegations that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was bribed by foreign businessmen with interests in Israel.
The investigation, launched in 2002, focuses on a $1.5 million loan the Sharon family received from South African businessman Cyril Kern. Police suspect that Kern, a longtime friend of the Sharon family, served as a front for other businessmen with vested interests in Israel.
Israeli sources close to the case were quoted in the media on Tuesday claiming that Austria and South Africa had failed to provide adequate assistance throughout the investigation despite repeated requests by the Israeli Justice Ministry's International Affairs Department.
If Austria and South Africa continued in their alleged refusal to cooperate, the sources said, the prosecution would be forced to close the case against the prime minister. The State Prosecutor's office has also recently asked the United States and Canada for their assistance in the Kern probe.
But on Wednesday, Austrian Justice Ministry Spokesman Christoph Pochinger rejected the accusation and told The Jerusalem Post that his office had fully cooperated with the Israeli investigation. Asked if Israel's claim was correct, Pochinger said: "This is not true."
"What is true," he said, "was that Austria granted Israel its full cooperation."
The Movement for Quality Government letters, written by attorney Daniel Kayros, mentioned South Africa and Austria's membership in a United Nations treaty against corruption.
The treaty stated, the letters claimed, that signatory countries are "convinced that corruption is no longer a local matter but a transnational phenomenon that affects all societies and economies making international cooperation to prevent and control it essential."
Last month, the Post reported that South Africa had recently questioned Kern and had received from him new evidence related to the case. South African officials claimed they were fully cooperating with an Israeli judicial request from November 2004 and that they intended to transfer the material to Israel in the near future.