"I've drawn the conclusion that the case against Ariel Sharon and his son Gilad Sharon should be closed due to lack of sufficient evidence," said Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, leaving many with their mouths hanging open. Because if the millions which David Appel delivered to Gilad Sharon are not bribery, what is?
In 1998, Appel began to plan the grandiose resort project on the Greek island of Patroklos. The island is designated as an archaeological site; to convert it into a resort studded with hundreds of hotel rooms, the Greek parliament would have had to pass a special law. But getting such laws passed are what friends are for.
In 1999, a Greek delegation, which included Greece's deputy foreign minister, visited Israel. Appel hosted a dinner for the guests in his house; Ariel Sharon, then foreign minister, was guest of honor. The Greeks were very impressed. That year, in June, Appel initiated an invitation to Athens' mayor - Ariel Sharon joined a dinner given by Appel in Jerusalem for the guest, and Sharon's son Gilad was also on hand. Once again, the Greeks were impressed. Mazuz, however, is not impressed. He says that Sharon's role was to be nothing more than a "decoration."
A wad of naivete is needed to believe that interpretation. Can the average citizen invite the foreign minister to come around so often to serve as a "decoration?"
In March 1999, two months after the first meal, Appel employed Gilad Sharon for an undefined job on the Greek island project. Mazuz describes Gilad as an industrious, devoted worker; but Gilad himself has said that his work boiled down to some Internet searches. As a reward for this poking around the Web, Gilad Sharon, who knows nothing about tourism and marketing, received NIS 34,000 a month - a totally inflated sum.
During 2000, Gilad became a "consultant," and his salary jumped to NIS 90,000 a month. There was a bonus: were the project to get off the ground, Sharon was to receive NIS 13.5 million. All told, though no hotel was built, and no tourist came to visit, Sharon received a whopping NIS 2.9 million for some Internet searches. During one of many telephone conversations between Ariel Sharon and Appel, the latter states: "Gilad is likely to earn a lot of money," and Sharon said, "The island is in our hands." But, as far as Mazuz is concerned, none of this is bribery.
Appel needed Sharon for another reason. He purchased thousands of dunams of agricultural land on moshavim near the town of Lod, and he counted on Sharon (who had charge of the Israel Lands Administration) to help him rezone the land for construction. Such a building project would have been worth tens of millions of shekels. According to the indictment against Appel, in 1998 he threatened Avi Drexler, the head of the ILA, that he would bring about Drexler's dismissal with Gilad Sharon's help, were the ILA head to persist with his opposition to the rezoning of this land at Ginaton.
When Sharon was elected prime minister, he enthusiastically embraced real estate development at Lod. Earlier, during two Likud primaries races in 1999, Appel promised to give Sharon political support. Before the February 1999 primaries, he promised Sharon that he would build a 30- to 40-man staff for him that would guarantee victory. If all these prodigal sums of money, and all of these "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours," arrangements aren't bribery, then what is?
Mazuz berated Edna Arbel and the State Prosecutor's Office in a humiliating fashion. He accused the prosecutors of acting according to a pre-arranged plan to overthrow the prime minister. He views Arbel and her colleagues as a group of jurists who have divided the state into "the good" and "the bad." The bad are right-wing politicians whose actions are invariably tainted by malicious intent. Hence, whenever the opportunity arises, indictments should be issued against them, no matter what the evidence says - that sums up Mazuz's characterization of this group of prosecutors. Due to this perception, the first thing Mazuz did after he took up his post was to close the criminal investigation of Likud MK Reuven Rivlin.
But in this case it appears that Mazuz was the one who first fired the arrow and then marked out the target: closing the file on Sharon. Since Mazuz took office, a series of hints made it clear that he would throw out the indictment recommendation. He wanted to show everyone in the State Prosecutor's Office that the new boss was around, that prosecutors would need to change their approach. Indictments are to be issued against politicians only in extreme cases, and only when it is clear that the suspect will be convicted. For crooked politicians, the attorney general's approach is a walk on the beach.
Half a year ago, a court convicted former minister Salah Tarif in a bribery case involving NIS 9,000. What Tarif should have done was stretch out the legal proceedings until Mazuz took office. For if NIS 2.9 million for some Internet searches is a worthy salary, then NIS 9,000 under Israel's new norms counts for zilch. If they've closed the case against Sharon, Tarif should get the Israel Prize.
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