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Attorney General Menachem Mazuz yesterday decided not to indict Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the so-called Greek island affair, due to insufficient evidence. Mazuz was also highly critical of the State Prosecution, headed by Edna Arbel.

Mazuz also decided not to indict the prime minister's son, Gilad, in the case, which involved an alleged attempt by contractor and Likud power-broker David Appel to bribe Sharon by employing Gilad at an exorbitant salary.

"The evidence in this case does not lead us to the conclusion that there is any basis for an indictment," Mazuz said. "The case against Ariel Sharon and his son Gilad will be closed due to insufficient evidence."

Mazuz insisted he did not give Sharon special treatment.

"My decision was made in the belief that there is one law for both the prime minister and an ordinary person with regard to the level of evidence needed to indict," he wrote in the 76-page document. "My decision on this case was not based on leniency toward the prime minister. The evidence was weak and did not add up to a solid case."

Mazuz said the evidence for both elements of the alleged crime - the factual element and the psychological element (meaning Sharon's awareness that a bribe was intended) - was weak, "and does not add up to an overall structure that stands on its own. The evidence in this case does not even bring us close to the existence of a reasonable chance of conviction. In every element of the foundations of the crime that we examined and analyzed in detail, there was a reasonable doubt, and sometimes even more than that."

All of the alleged evidence, he added, was "indirect and circumstantial." In addition, he said, the timing appeared bizarre: For instance, one of the "benefits" that Appel allegedly received from Sharon was received in 1997, a year and a half before Appel hired Gilad Sharon.

Mazuz said his decision was backed by "every member of the professional team that helped me with this case." However, it was not shared by former state prosecutor (and now Supreme Court Justice) Edna Arbel, who not only favored indicting Sharon but even drew up a draft indictment. Mazuz did not elaborate on the reasons for Arbel's view.

"The decision-making process in the prosecution, and the handling of the case, was unacceptable," he wrote. "The prosecutors handling the case in its initial phase did not even push it forward. The investigative team had a single unequivocal stance - that there was no evidence. In December 2003, a highly detailed report was drawn up by the prosecution stating that the bottom line was that there was not enough evidence to indict Sharon" - and Arbel herself signed off on that decision, he said.

However, he said, a new team set up by Arbel later "set itself a goal, and it would bring in additional people to bolster and fortify its stance ... A position was adopted by the team leader [i.e. Arbel], and that affected the team."

He added: "I do not accept the approach ... that if the prosecutor has doubts about whether there is sufficient evidence to convict someone, he should submit an indictment and leave the work to the court."

Regarding Gilad Sharon, Mazuz said: "There is no evidentiary basis for suspecting that Gilad was involved in fictitious business dealings."

Appel, who has already been indicted for allegedly bribing Sharon in return for political favors, is now expected to demand that this charge be dropped from the indictment against him. Mazuz is considered likely to comply.

The indictment stated that Appel bribed Sharon in exchange for his help on two matters: an attempt to win the Greek government's approval for plans to develop a gambling resort on a Greek island, and efforts to get lands in the vicinity of Lod annexed to the city. Both efforts failed.

Mazuz's decision is still not the last word in the story, since it is likely, particularly in light of Arbel's conflicting recommendation, to be challenged in the High Court of Justice. MKs Yossi Sarid (Yahad-Meretz) and Eitan Cabel (Labor) had previously said they would petition the court should Mazuz decide against indicting the prime minister. However, court intervention in such decisions is fairly rare.

Mazuz's decision is also expected to pave the way for the Labor Party to join the coalition.

The decision will be published on the Justice Ministry Web site.