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The public can be accused of being short-sighted, of lacking imagination, of timidity - but not of stupidity. Whoever looks at the totally insane sum of $16 billion that David Appel proposed investing in his Greek island fiasco cannot think anything except this is pure gigantic fantasy.

True, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz described the project as "grandiose, some would say megalomaniac," but one has the impression that Mazuz and his staff didn't check whether Appel was at all capable of putting together such a project.

In fact, it's almost impossible to find projects anywhere in the world with an investment on the scale Appel proposed for his island, which easily topped even such world beating developments as the former Twin Towers in New York and Hong Kong's Disney World.

London's vast Canary Wharf financial district did cost $16 billion - and piled a mountain of debts on its investors. Could David Appel have carried off a project of such dimensions?

The legal community may have been up in arms yesterday after Mazuz's decision to clear the prime minister and his son of all suspicion of receiving a bribe from Appel, but the financial community was swept off its feet by the fantastically unbelievable sums mentioned in the Greek island affair.

Many top businessmen in Israel have carried out giant ventures but even the biggest of these - buying control of Bank Hapoalim in 1997 for $1.4 billion - was done by certain American tycoons who were richer than Appel, and with generous bank credit too.

From Mazuz's legal opinion we learn that he saw documents putting the cost of the Greek island project at $16 billion. Although Mazuz termed the project megalomaniac, it's hard to find any real reservations on his part about this fantastic sum.

To prove this was the cost of the project, Appel should have provided the prosecution with a real plan that included full details of what means he had for raising this amount. To take the grandiose plan seriously, one would expect Appel to show agreements with banks for funding, and documents from banks to prove he indeed had personal capital in billions of dollars, without which he could not get any bank's backing.

It is impossible to finance a project of this nature without raising capital from the public by issuing debentures, or by getting investment directly from big institutional bodies such as pension funds, insurance companies or provident funds. Apple had no such approvals nor any such letters of intent.

Mazuz writes that "according to the documents found, the planned investment was for $16 billion." Mazuz chose to concentrate mainly on the legal issues, but the economic question is no less relevant because it addresses a central issue - was the $640,000 paid to Gilad Sharon reasonable for the services he rendered to the project?

As soon as an astronomical sum like $16 billion is introduced in legal investigation chambers and accepted at face value, then anyone who is not familiar with the business world can be blinded by any other random number - and be misled by any story sold to him.