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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Likud MK Omri Sharon was convicted on charges that he concealed illegal donations to his father's election campaigns in Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on Tuesday, after he pled guilty to them on the opening day of his trial.
The most serious of the charges are false entries into the documents of a corporate body, which calls for a jail sentence of up to five years, and making a false oath, for which Sharon is liable to up to three years. Both are violations of the Criminal Code. Most of the other charges in the indictment derive from the Political Parties Law.
The court will sentence Sharon at a later date. Court President Edna Bankenstein will also decide whether the crimes involved moral turpitude. If she decides they do, Sharon will not be allowed to serve as a member of the Knesset for seven years.
On Monday, the State Attorney's Office and Sharon's lawyer, Dan Scheineman, reached an agreement whereby Sharon would plead guilty to the two most serious charges, and the state would change two other charges to less serious ones.
However, the sides did not agree on the sentence or the question of moral turpitude. The negotiations had gone on for more than two months before Monday's partial agreement.
"During the past few months, in total silence, we conducted intensive negotiations in the hope that we could come to the opening of the trial and say, 'We confess.'" Scheineman told reporters. "It was not a simple matter. [But] it was important for Omri to plead guilty and take upon himself all of the responsibility."
At the same time, Scheineman attacked the law that limits the amount of contributions political candidates can accept and said that "no one can abide by it. We are talking about an almost certain trap for anyone who wants to run in an election."
Scheineman also stressed that Omri Sharon might become the first politician to go to jail for violating this law.
According to the indictment, Sharon, who served as his father's campaign manager in the 1999 Likud primary for party chairman, established a secret channel of funding alongside the official, legal one. Most of the money was funneled through a fictitious company called Annex Research.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's adviser Dov Weisglass established Annex Research in March 1999. Omri had Weisglass appoint Gabriel Manor, a personal friend, to head it. The company opened a bank account and began to receive money from three US-based organizations - The American-Israel Research Friendship Foundation, the Center for National Studies and International Relations and the College for National Studies. Altogether, the companies poured $1,484,950 into Annex Research.
In addition, the College for National Studies paid $300,000 directly to suppliers and service providers for Sharon's campaign, while an Israeli company, the Center for Security and Peace, paid NIS 47,876 to another Sharon campaign service provider.
At the same time, Sharon appointed another person to oversee the official financing of the campaign, which remained within the boundaries of the law.
Sharon did not use up all of the illegal funding in the primary campaign. The rest of the money was spent during the election to choose a new prime minister in February 2001.
In a controversial decision, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz decided to clear Ariel Sharon and Weisglass, while indicting Omri Sharon and Manor. Mazuz wrote that he had not found evidence to indicate that Ariel Sharon knew about the existence of Annex Research.