Come Clean or Go Home

Sharon has some troubling questions to answer, and not only at police headquarters. The public, which heard him preaching to MK Naomi Blumenthal about the inappropriateness of a public figure retaining the right to silence, is waiting to hear from him.

The day is fast approaching when Ariel Sharon will have to decide whether to disclose his part in the affair of the money that traveled half way around the globe until it reached the account of Sycamore Ranch Ltd., looking like a bribe and smelling like a bribe, or to hand in his resignation. In these difficult times, we need a prime minister who will concentrate on rescuing the country from its terrible troubles, and not a politician whose sole concern is covering his ass.

The scent of money has guided the principal actors in this affair, and it all began with Sharon's fierce desire to get elected - both in the Likud primaries, in order to neutralize Netanyahu, and in his one-on-one race for prime minister against Ehud Barak.

To do this, he needed money, lots of money. His rich friends rushed to the rescue, some of them in the name of pure friendship, and some of them in the name of the sacred cause known as "cast your bread upon the waters," also recognized by the law as a motive for racketeering. Nonprofit associations and shell companies were established, the largest of them called "Annex Research."

The whole business exploded when the state comptroller demanded that Sharon return the NIS 4.7 million he received from Annex Research. From that moment, Gilad Sharon entered the picture, drumming up a $1.5 million loan from a dear family friend in South Africa by the name of Cyril Kern as collateral for an Israeli bank loan.

Except that the orbit of the stars looks like child's play compared to the orbit of the money of this South African millionaire, which traveled the New York-Vienna-Tel Aviv-Vienna circuit. Baruch Kra disclosed in Haaretz that Gilad Sharon repaid the money he received from Cyril Kern with the help of another mysterious money transfer from a bank in Vienna, allegedly from an Austrian millionaire who does business in Israel and also has dealings in the territories.

When Sharon was asked at a press conference how Gilad had obtained such a bundle of money in such a short span of time, he replied: "My son is a gifted economist, and I'm very proud of him. We have nothing to hide."

And this is without even mentioning the bizarre Greek islands affair, which was supposed to net Gilad hundreds of thousands of dollars as an adviser to the contractor David Appel, one of the people Sharon turned to for assistance in his bid to win the Likud primaries.

All this talk about "the money having been repaid" and "not having anything to hide" quickly ended in a solid wall of insistence on the right to remain silent. The right to remain silent? What on earth for, if they have nothing to hide?

Omri Sharon in the Annex affair; Gilad in the loan affair; Arie Genger, an old personal friend of Sharon - all of them have remained silent. The questioning of Cyril Kern turned up a lot of discrepancies.

But the champion of silence is the man who has not been interrogated at all, namely the prime minister. His sons and his friends have put themselves on the line for him and he plays the fool: Who, me? I'm not in this business; I don't know about the finances of the ranch; I don't know where the money came from. Ask the kids.

The most incomprehensible thing about this affair, which certainly smells like corruption, is why the police and legal authorities are moving so slowly. Why are the police taking so long to call in the Great Silent One - the prime minister himself - for questioning? They did South Africa; they did New York; they're thinking of giving Vienna another try. So what about Sycamore Ranch? Did they forget the way or something?

Sharon has some troubling questions to answer, and not only at police headquarters. The public, which heard him preaching to MK Naomi Blumenthal about the inappropriateness of a public figure retaining the right to silence, is waiting to hear from him. Sharon's attack of muteness is not only a disgrace from the standpoint of proper administration; it is unfair to his sons.

In any case, Sharon is turning out to be a lousy prime minister with no serious program for solving Israel's military, economic and social problems. All we need now is for him to sacrifice public morals for the sake of his personal survival.

As much as they try to cover up for him, Sharon is so deep in the mud that with every attempt to save him, he only sinks deeper. He owes the public the truth. He should come clean - or go home.