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The investigation into the shell companies created for Ariel Sharon's 1999 campaign for the Likud leadership, which yielded the taped conversation between Ariel Sharon and David Spector, could have ended a long time ago with indictments against MK Omri Sharon, and apparently his father, the prime minister, as well.

The investigation into Ehud Barak's nonprofit organizations and the alleged illegal channeling of campaign funding through them never led to the tip of the pyramid, due to lack of evidence. But in the case of the prime minister, there is plenty of evidence.

The investigation has been stalled because of the way it turned into a much more serious affair in 2002 - the so-called Cyril Kern affair. In this affair, the prime minister is suspected of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust - far more serious matters than violating campaign financing laws and the other matters of which he is suspected in the original case.

The shell company inquiry began with a State Comptroller's Report in 2001 that dealt with the special election for prime minister and the Likud primaries campaign that preceded it. That report raised suspicions of criminal behavior by the prime minister, his sons, his former bureau chief, Uri Shani, and his current bureau chief, Dov Weisglass.

The group is suspected of creating a sophisticated series of shell companies that funneled money, apparently in violation of the law, into various Sharon campaigns. The group is also suspected of misusing Likud monies for Sharon's personal campaign.

After a few months of inquiry into the events described in the State Comptroller's Report, Miri Golan, commander of the police fraud squad, was ready to indict Omri Sharon, but said more investigation was needed for his father, Shani and Weisglass.

By then, the International Crimes Department had come across the millions of dollars that had been transferred out of an Austrian bank and into Gilad Sharon's bank accounts. Thus, suspicion mounted that the prime minister's "voluntary" return of the allegedly illegal campaign contributions after the state comptroller discovered the infractions was far from innocent.

The police suspect that a cycle was created in which the businessmen who contributed to Sharon's campaign in 1999 were the same people who loaned the $1.5 million, through Cyril Kern, to Gilad Sharon, and thus enabled his father to pay those very same businessmen back. They are suspected of sending Gilad Sharon another $3 million a few months later to enable him to pay back the loan - while still leaving a hefty sum in Sharon family accounts. That transfer was made through a shell company created by Gilad Sharon and Cyril Kern. In effect, the donors were also both the lenders and the clients of the fictitious companies through which the money flowed to Sharon.

The desire to uncover the truth in these grave matters is what is now holding up the final touches on the original inquiry into the allegedly illegal companies created for Sharon's campaigns. The Sharon family has put a series of hurdles in the way of police and prosecutors ever since the inquiry began. The father sent the detectives to his sons, who first claimed the right to immunity because they live on their father's estate, and then claimed the right to remain silent because they did not want to incriminate themselves. Indeed, Gilad Sharon continues to hold onto documents that the courts have already ordered him to hand over to the police.

An Austrian denial of a police request to question bank officials in Vienna also contributed to delaying the case, as did the controversial police decision not to raid Gilad Sharon's house, which is located in a separate building from his father's on their Negev ranch. But police and prosecutors involved in the investigation say they are now more determined than ever to uncover the truth.