Sharon's Austrian Challenge

Sharon must urge his sons and his friends to help the police uncover the truth and exhaust the investigative and judicial process.

A week ago, Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi and his officers stood on a hill in Sa-Nur opposite an old fortress belonging to the British police, the Israel Police's stepmother. Among those present were the head of the investigations and intelligence division, Major General Dudi Cohen, the head of the national fraud squad, Brigadier General Miri Golan, and the head of the national serious and international crimes division, Brigadier General Amichai Shai. The investigative officers played only a marginal role in evacuating the settlements. Their presence reflected an astonishing case of dual identity - not their own, but that of Ariel Sharon.

By day, Sharon is head of the executive branch, to which the police force belongs, and it executes his policies, which are anchored in the laws of the state. By night, Sharon is a man suspected of committing crimes in order to attain power, and he is also the father of two other men suspected of similar crimes, who worked for his benefit, even if, as they claim, it was without his knowledge. He is not the former suspect of the "Greek island" case, which was closed, but the current suspect of an ongoing, albeit dormant, case - the "Cyril Kern" affair.

Sharon will be running in the upcoming elections, either primary or general, for the fourth time since becoming embroiled in cases related to the financing of the 1999 Likud primary. This entanglement was not publicly known then, when he was elected head of his party, nor was it known when he defeated Ehud Barak in the 2001 elections. It entered the public's consciousness for a moment on the eve of the 2003 elections, but was then swept under the red carpet again. Almost three years have passed since then, but the cloud continues to hover over Sharon's head and will accompany him into the next elections.

Now that an indictment has been filed against Omri Sharon, which gives the impression that Omri misled his innocent, good-hearted but distracted father into signing a false document, two other investigations are still being conducted into the Sharon family. The first, which deals with the ties between the Sharons' Sycamore Ranch and the Israel Land Development Corporation, has been transferred from the police's serious and international crimes division to the district attorney of the Central District, where attorneys are wavering between filing indictments and closing the case due to insufficient evidence - which is actually closer to no evidence.

The case that poses a greater danger to Ariel Sharon is the probe into the second half of the "Annex Research" affair: How and to whom were the illegally raised funds recycled, thereby circumventing the law and the state comptroller's directive. This investigation is connected to Cyril Kern, though, so far as is known, he is not central to it; he was merely a way station on a circular path. Brigadier General Golan and the head of the international division of the State Prosecutor's Office, attorney Gal Levertov, have not given in to the war of attrition waged by Sharon's cohorts. As a preexisting investigation, the Kern affair will not be affected by the attorney general's directive to refrain from investigating politicians in the run-up to an election, but it is also not expected to progress, so Sharon will once again be both a candidate and a suspect.

Police investigators have amassed considerable information about the money trail, but only a fraction of it is usable in court. The intelligence is prevented from becoming evidence by the lack of cooperation from the Austrian Justice Ministry, which is asserting the sanctity of bank confidentiality, and is refusing to give its Israeli counterpart the legal assistance the latter has requested. The Austrians are liable to shrink from a confrontation with a sitting Israeli prime minister, and there are Israelis who encourage them to feel this way. But in theory, everything is in the banks' hands, which are tied by their obligation of confidentiality toward their clients - and these clients, Sharon's benefactors, are refusing to be exposed and to thereby incriminate both themselves and others.

On the personal level, this is their right. But on the political level, Sharon must not be allowed to evade disclosure. He, the champion of the rule of law, who sent the police to enforce the disengagement law even at the price of infringing to some extent on the settlers' rights, must urge his sons and his friends to help the police uncover the truth and exhaust the investigative and judicial process. He must use the international prestige he is supposed to enjoy as a result of the evacuation to urge the Austrian authorities to remove the barriers to the investigation and let the chips in Israel fall where they will.

It is a bit naive to expect Sharon to behave in this way, but Israel is the land of miracles. The proof: Until now, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has believed all of Sharon's explanations and most of those given by his sons.