Omri Sharon charged in NIS 6m. corruption case

MK Sharon took sole responsibility for fraud, supplying false testimony and forging documents.

A long-anticipated indictment against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's son and confidant, MK Omri Sharon, was filed Sunday in the Tel Aviv District Court for corruption charges dating from Sharon's successful bid for the Likud Party chairmanship in 1999. Taking sole responsibility for fraud, supplying false testimony and forging documents, Omri Sharon waived his right to Knesset immunity last month. Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz had announced the decision to indict Omri Sharon on July 27, allowing him the legally allotted 30 days to muster a Knesset plenum to grant him immunity against the charges. The charge sheet accuses Sharon and two other accomplices of using fictitious companies to disburse NIS 6 million for his father's campaign and slipping it past the Likud Party comptroller through direct payments to suppliers and consultants. That sum far exceeds the fund-raising cap established by the Parties Law, which was passed in the Knesset to regulate parties' campaign finances. The indictment follows a barrage of accusations by the Right that the Sharon family orchestrated the pullout from 25 Gaza and West Bank settlements to divert attention from the corruption charges brewing since 2001. According to the 25-page indictment, Sharon funneled the funds to Israel directly from overseas accounts and ordered consultants, service suppliers and campaign activists to falsify receipts. If convicted on all counts, Sharon could be sentenced to five years in prison. But a plea bargain could reduce the sentence to nine months or, as Sharon wants, community service only. In a letter to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin last month, Omri Sharon deflected all blame from his father, saying, "It is true, in my managing of my father's 1999 election campaign, I did not stand by the rules of the Parties Law, and for that I will face judgment." He said the entirety of his argument would be revealed "before the court that tries me." The indictment follows three years of painstaking work by many government prosecutors to construct a solid case against the Sharon family, in general, and Omri Sharon, in particular. "Omri is clearly laying it on the line for his father," said Prof. Asher Maoz, chairman of the Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law. "The big question is what is revealed during the trial. Part of that could be damning to the prime minister." According to Moshe Negbi, who teaches constitutional and media law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, whatever happens, "Omri Sharon's political career will come to an end." He said there would be little political fallout unless Sharon stands trial, "but it seems that both the Sharons and Mazuz [who hopes to avert a scandal that could implicate him because of his alleged shielding of Sharon] prefer a plea bargain." Negbi said a trial could air potentially damaging evidence against both Sharons. Politically speaking, it could impact the endemically corrupt campaign fund-raising in Israel, he added. "But if neither Omri nor his father stands trial, nothing is likely to change," Negbi said. "The stakes for the winner remain so high that candidates will likely continue to take risks."