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(photo credit: Gideon Markowicz)
The South African Justice Ministry defended itself on Monday and rejected Israeli Justice Ministry claims it had failed to cooperate with an ongoing bribery investigation against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The South African Justice Ministry had been asked by Israel in November 2004 to collect evidence from Cyril Kern, a Cape Town-based businessman who loaned Sharon $1.5 million in 2002. Police suspect that Kern, who has no known business interests in Israel, merely served as a front for other foreign businessmen heavily invested in Israel, and that the loan was meant to serve as a bribe to Sharon.
Israeli sources close to the case were quoted last week claiming that Austria and South Africa had failed to provide adequate assistance throughout the investigation despite repeated requests by the 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.
But on Monday, South African Justice Ministry Spokesman Kaizer Kganyago rejected the accusations and told The Jerusalem Post his office had fully complied with the Israeli request for judicial assistance. Kganyago said South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority, which was tasked with the investigation, was currently waiting to receive additional information regarding the money transfers from SARS - the South African Revenue Service.
"As far as we are concerned the matter is still being processed," Kganyago told the Post. "What is important is that the matter is receiving attention, [and] I do not know what they [Israel] are basing their [claim] on." Meanwhile Monday, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz announced he would not suspend the bribery investigation against Sharon during the upcoming election period.
"There is no intention to suspend ongoing investigations against public figures due to the upcoming elections," Mazuz's assistant Ran Nazri wrote in a letter sent to the Ometz organization, which had asked the attorney-general to publicize the police's findings in the Kern affair and to wrap up the probe before the general elections. In 2002, then-attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein suspended investigations against politicians in the run-up to the elections.
As to the Kern investigation, Nazri wrote, "As you know, this is a complicated investigation that involves Israel and other countries. The Israel Police and the prosecution are doing all they can to move the investigation forward and we hope those efforts will bear fruit."
The Kern investigation began following Sharon's victory in the 1999 Likud Party leadership primaries when the then-Likud Party chairman went into debt to repay NIS 4.7 million in illegal campaign contributions.
In 2002, Sharon's son Gilad received a $1.5m. loan, originating in Austria, from Kern to repay a loan the family had taken out to repay the donations. In November 2002, after Gilad allegedly learned police were tracking the money transfer, he received two additional transfers from the Austrian bank BAWAG totaling close to $3 million. In total he received close to $4.5 million.