Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein and State Attorney Edna Arbel decided to close an investigation against Ariel Sharon. The decision was made after they discussed a police recommendation to prosecute him for accepting bribes, fraud, breach of trust and obstruction of justice.
The case wasn't closed for lack of guilt, but rather for lack of enough evidence, and in Rubinstein's eyes, the suspicion remained that Sharon was trying to do something for some businessmen in exchange for something he expected to get from them. "To prosecute," Rubinstein explained, "suspicion is not enough. We had to examine if such an [evidentiary] foundation existed, necessary in criminal law for a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt, and what would be the chance of a conviction of the businessman and Sharon for crimes connected to the affair. We reached the conclusion we did not have enough to reply in the affirmative. The evidence in the case was all circumstantial."
Tomorrow's headline? No, yesterday's, but what was and wasn't in Sharon's last case could be very contemporary nowadays, and the differences between that case - the Russian gas episode - and the current investigations against him are not to Sharon's advantage. One can draw conclusions from the differences about where the investigation of the prime minister is going, after it dragged on due to various obstacles, including the 18-month investigation of Commander Moshe Mizrahi.
A reminder. In June 1999, Sharon was foreign minister and minister of national infrastructures in the outgoing Netanyahu government. The businessman under suspicion in the case was not David Appel but Yanosh Ben-Gal, and in another part of the investigation, Vladimir Gusinsky. The attorney general and state attorney clucked their tongues in unison because the case was a "demonstration of the tension between the sense of impropriety that rises from the description and the need for evidence beyond the administrative plane, in order to submit a criminal file." Sharon was not convicted nor even prosecuted, but neither Rubinstein nor Arbel can take pride in the lack of guilt, while on the "administrative level" there was plenty of evidence for a proceeding against Sharon.
The Greek Island affair began at the same time the Ben-Gal-Gusinsky case was being closed, and the investigation of Sharon's connections with contractor David Appel goes back at least as far as 1997, when the events in the case took place. The police have witness testimony that Sharon, as the person responsible for the Israel Lands Administration, made his officials help Appel. According to that version, the political help (to Sharon against Ehud Olmert) and the financial help (the millions for Gilad Sharon) in 1999, were Appel's "give" in exchange for Sharon's "take," which preceded the groundwork for the Greek Island affair.
Unlike most suspects, with the help of his lawyer, Dori Klagsberg, Ariel Sharon prepared for his interrogations by going through every possible scenario of what could happen, and preparing a reaction to it, just like a commander going into a combat operation. He had the "Sheves-Shuldenfrei" defense - though it's on shaky legs. Sheves, the former director general of Yitzhak Rabin's Prime Minister's Office, who was represented by Dov Weisglass, now head of Sharon's bureau, claimed in his trial that as the bureaucratic red-tape cutter he may have helped his friends, the brothers Shuldenfrei, but he also helped a lot of people he didn't know and therefore did not grant the brothers preferential treatment.
Appel is one of the few contractors who received direct aid from Sharon. The former infrastructures minister can claim that Appel's construction ventures involving changes in zoning made for him were going to help thousands of tenants and the communities where Appel was building. It's a nice argument, but not necessarily convincing.
As head of the Criminal Investigations Department, Mizrahi is a coach, not a player, encouraging his investigators and listening to their reports, but not actually investigating on his own, a job mostly left to the heads of the units and their team. (Sando Mazor, who was head of CID when he questioned Netanyahu in the Bar On-Hebron affair, appointed himself head of the special investigating team at the time). But Mizrahi's position will influence the conclusions derived form the consolidation of the evidence.
In 1999, as head of the International Investigations Unit that concluded there was "a foundation of circumstantial evidence" against Sharon, Mizrahi gave Rubinstein and Arbel the foundations for two alternatives: either prosecute because there is enough evidence, or shelve the affair because it's all circumstantial. This time, if Mizrahi and Arbel believe the evidence against Sharon is firm, if Appel is accused of bribing him, it will be difficult for Rubinstein on his own to explain why he closed the case.
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