The Sharon File Won't Be Closed

Even if Mazuz closes the case in the Appel affair due to doubts that there is sufficient evidence to convict, and fear about irreversible damage being caused to the government and State Prosecutor's Office, and even if the High Court does not reverse Mazuz's decision, the case will not be closed in the public's mind.

You could say that Al Gore, an experienced politician and an expert judge of the alignment of forces in his political party, has powerful incentive to see George Bush leave the White House. A few weeks ago, he threw his support to the front-runner who seemed most likely to win in the primaries and become the Democrats' candidate, Howard Dean. Then Dean disintegrated, and a candidate who won't forgive Gore, John Kerry, took the lead.

That's a long way of saying something short: Nothing is easy to forecast, even when all the facts and variables seem clear. This rule of uncertainty holds true for forecasting elections, an enemy's abilities and intentions, the results of a legal proceeding, and (last but not least) a complicated case such as the suspicions concerning Ariel Sharon. It would be a simple affair, were it not for the fact that the goddess of justice, who loathes partisanship and prejudice, will lift the veils from her eyes and behold that the suspect is none other than the prime minister.

Sharon is suspected of committing criminal offenses en route to his post as prime minister. Since he has reached that position, his lofty status deters others from treating him as an equal, as though he were a regular citizen; and so he and his sons are playing a two-sided game of hide-and-seek. He hides behind them, and at least one of them, Gilad, hides simultaneously behind his father, even though yesterday's court decision would seem to bring this game to a halt.

Two years ago, State Prosecutor Edna Arbel visited Hong Kong, and was impressed on her trip by her hosts' determination to eradicate the blight of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) has operated in Hong Kong since 1974. Any public official, be it an elected or appointed one, who becomes wealthy from non-salary sources owes the ICAC an explanation.

That's the rule that Arbel imports to Israel when she speaks about how the burden of proof needs to be shifted from the prosecutors to the suspect in such cases. Hong Kong's ICAC is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, and can be proud of the country's record of reduced corruption during this period.

In Israel's public realm, there is no ICAC - there is only PSAC (police, state prosecutor, attorney general and courts). Relations between police and the State Prosecutor's Office are like those between a journalist and editor: The former is supposed to compile the raw material, and the latter decides what to do with it. Or, to use another analogy, the police units investigating suspicions against Sharon are akin to the IDF units that deal with the gathering of intelligence information, whereas the head of the police investigations unit is like the director of information compilation in Military Intelligence; district prosecutors are like various theaters of operation in MI's research division; the state prosecutor is the head of the research division; and the attorney general is the director of MI, the state's highest evaluator of military intelligence.

There are reciprocal relations between parties responsible for intelligence gathering and for assessment, but there are also clear lines of responsibility, and compartmentalization of the various divisions in the intelligence field. In some cases, parties responsible for gathering information are entitled to issue warnings if they detect a lack of attention among those responsible for research and assessment (as in the case of October 1973), but these are exceptions.

The head of the police's International Crimes Unit, Brigadier General Yohanan Danino, doubts whether there is "sufficient evidence" against Sharon in the Appel case (the Cyril Kern affair remains under investigation by this unit, and is far from being wrapped up). Danino's view, which has been expressed in closed meetings, is that there is insufficient evidence to convict. Whether this is the "unit's position" or his own view remains unclear; nor are the views of Arbel, other prosecutors who are working on the case, and Police Major General Moshe Mizrahi, head of the Criminal Investigations Department, entirely clear.

In any case, the moment the materials compiled by investigators are submitted, the information gatherers lose their advantage vis-a-vis those who are supposed to review the findings, and decide what to do with them.

The last public security minister, Uzi Landau, was pleased with Danino, partly due to their joint opposition to the police force's practice of concluding investigations with recommendations to the State Prosecutor's Office to indict, or not to indict. But in this case, in which Danino's skepticism about evidence can be seen as meaning "case closed," some forces have an interest in exaggerating his position, hoping that in the campaign to influence public opinion (and perhaps also in terms of persuading the High Court of Justice, should a petition against the closure of the file be submitted), some weight will be given to the question of whether Attorney General Menachem (Meni) Mazuz went against the grain of what all his subordinates who handled the case believed, or whether there was a dispute between them.

But whether or not there is a united front for or against indictment is not a crucial issue. Those who expect conviction cannot predict whether or not evidence against a suspect will be viewed the same way on all levels of the legal system; there can be a majority or minority even in a court proceeding.

Twice in the past, in response to controversies that swirled around the Lebanon War, Sharon whipped out the pliers, extracted a few lines out of a glut of articles written about him and used them to file libel suits. Even if Mazuz closes the case in the Appel affair due to doubts that there is sufficient evidence to convict, and fear about irreversible damage being caused to the government and State Prosecutor's Office, and even if the High Court does not reverse Mazuz's decision, the case will not be closed in the public's mind.

Sharon will wonder whether he should sue anyone who quotes from a non-submitted draft of an indictment and risk losing a civil proceeding, or whether he should show restraint, stumble under the weight of question marks that bear down upon him, and watch how George Bush's attitude toward him becomes cold and evasive. On the eve of elections in the United States, the American president will not be happy to respond to journalists' questions about what he thinks of his guest, Israel's prime minister, who has not been exonerated of suspicions of corruption.