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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Omri Sharon, the son of comatose former premier Ariel Sharon, is due to start serving a seven-month sentence for a slew of corruption, fraud and perjury convictions handed down in 2005. He was initially sentenced to nine months exactly two years ago. Last year his sentence was reduced to seven months.
His last ditch effort to avoid imprisonment failed last month when the Supreme Court turned down his request to make do with community service because he is called upon to care for his incapacitated father at Sheba Sheba Medical Center. Sharon further argued that he had been punished enough when his conviction cost him his Knesset seat. He cited his mother's death (long before the felonies were committed) as another extenuating circumstance and grounds for leniency.
Three High Court justices - Edmond Levy, Asher Grunis and Yosef Allon - found no merit in Sharon's petition and judged that what was meted out to him was hardly harsh considering the gravity of his offenses.
Yet the widespread opinion in the political arena is that Sharon will nevertheless not serve his prison term. Friends and associates have appealed to President Shimon Peres - Ariel Sharon's prime political partner at the time - to pardon Omri. Persistent reports claim that Peres is amenable. Statements from the president's office to the effect that he "isn't dealing with the matter at this juncture" have failed to quash speculation.
It is to be hoped that Peres does not intervene. Even if Sharon serves every last day of his sentence - which is doubtful - he will have gotten off relatively easy. He admitted to felonies ranging from fraud to perjury, all emanating from his father's campaign funding irregularities. These include receiving sums far exceeding limits on contributions from Israel and abroad. Sharon then attempted to cover-up by transferring these amounts to the essentially fabricated Annex Research polling firm. (This is apart from the unfinished Cyril Kern file and irrespective of the cases closed controversially against Omri's younger brother, Gilad, most notably the "Greek Island" affair.)
Judge Edna Beckenstein, who convicted Sharon, said in her ruling that his case pointed to "a swamp of corruption that must be dried up."
Sharon has asserted that in light of precedents, he is being singled out for callous treatment. Former MK Naomi Blumenthal, for instance, escaped a nine-month term recently when Peres pardoned her. But compared to Sharon she was small fry; her conviction sprang from paying for overnight hotel stays by several Likud primary delegates. Blumenthal, moreover, is 65, recently widowed and ailing. Sharon is a robust 44.
In 2000, then-state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg levied the heftiest-ever fine - NIS 13.8 million - on the Labor Party for mammoth electioneering fraud in Ehud Barak's 1999 prime-ministerial campaign. The comptroller revealed a shocking, unprecedented network of bogus NGOs, some masquerading as charities. These organizations were deliberately established to funnel illicit funds into Barak's campaign coffers. The comptroller dubbed this "the greatest election scam ever."
The police reluctantly handled the hot potato dropped in its lap. The suspects, headlined by Barak and his then-campaign manager Isaac Herzog, refused to cooperate. Their strategy, coupled with marked police lethargy, succeeded. The charges were eventually dropped by attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein, but not before he severely took to task the higher-ups who had kept mum. Rubinstein made a point of stressing that he was not letting Barak off the hook because of inherent innocence but because of "insufficient evidence."
Omri Sharon, who may or may not have taken the fall for his father, at least plea-bargained and owned up to his misdeeds. However, not punishing him because of dubious precedents would add insult to injury and itself would constitute another dangerous precedent, legitimizing any future political swindler's demand for the same privileges Sharon obtained. Not breaking this cycle would be tantamount to declaring that political financing regulations may be breached with impunity and that any attendant crime will likewise carry no penalty.
For the sake of our civic hygiene, therefore, Sharon must serve time and erase any lingering suspicion of favoritism. As is, the book was hardly thrown at him. Sharon is not his father's primary caregiver. There are convicts behind bars with far more distressing personal circumstances and receiving no preferential treatment. The principle of equality before the law should not need restating. Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.