The Israeli Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the son of Prime Minister Sharon must surrender documents linked to a fundraising scandal that some observers have said could eventually bring down the Israeli leader.
Justices Theodor Or, Eliyahu Mazza, Michael Cheshin, Dorit Beinisch and Edmond Levy ruled that Gilad Sharon must hand the documents over to the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, which will then determine whether or not the documents potentially incriminate the younger Sharon. Until now, the prime minister’s son has exercised his right to remain silent in the case, arguing that the surrender of the documents could compromise his right to refrain from incriminating himself. A district court had accepted his argument, but the Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously overruled it.
The case involves alleged fundraising improprieties and a $1.5 million loan from South African businessman Cyril Kern.
State attorneys are also working on summarizing the material in the other major investigation concerning Sharon: the alleged bribery case known as the Greek island affair involving construction magnate David Appel. At the end of October, the prime minister was questioned by the International Crimes Unit, on suspicion of accepting a bribe from Appel.
Gilad Sharon’s attorney said after the Wednesday ruling that his client would honor and abide by the decision, which dealt with the Kern case. Pitman added that “the court has not found that Gilad Sharon does not have the right to remain silent, but rather that this right does not extend to the documents.”
The Supreme Court said in its ruling that the police do not usually ask suspects to hand over documents linked to an ongoing investigation, but did in this case due to special circumstances and the fact that Gilad Sharon lives with his father, who as prime minister and a member of Knesset enjoys parliamentary immunity. This immunity means that police are prohibited from carrying out a search of the residence.
The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court is due to decide in the coming days exactly how and when Gilad Sharon will hand over the necessary documents.
The prime minister, meanwhile, is expected to be summoned soon to an interrogation at the National Fraud Squad offices, to answer police questions about shell companies used for raising funds and about the $1.5 million loan from Cyril Kern.
Sharon is suspected of accepting the loan from the South African businessman when he was contesting the leadership of the Likud Party. The loan was paid back last year, allegedly by Gilad Sharon with money received a few days beforehand from two businessmen who sent it from the Austrian bank where the Kern cash had originated.
The fraud squad is investigating Sharon’s involvement in alleged violations of campaign financing laws in the 1999 Likud primaries, as well as far more serious allegations of bribery in the Kern affair.
Overseas depositions have helped the police consolidate the evidence against Sharon, fueling their suspicions that Sharon was directly involved in raising illegal campaign contributions for his race for the Likud leadership in 1999.
Police are said to be certain of their case against the prime minister on the campaign-finance issue and are set to schedule additional questioning of the prime minister in the coming days. The police had waited until now for completion of depositions taken overseas and for the Wednesday decision by the Supreme Court.
The depositions taken overseas strengthened police suspicions that, contrary to Sharon’s claims to the state comptroller and previous police investigators, he knew how illegal funding was raised and transferred from overseas through shell companies such as Annex Research Ltd. to pay for his 1999 campaign. The police reportedly have documentation and statements that Sharon was actively involved in raising the funds even though it was clear he was violating Israeli campaign-finance laws. The depositions, taken in Los Angeles and New York in 2002, showed that a key financier for Sharon overseas was Los Angeles resident Yoram Oren, an Israeli.
Sharon is suspected of helping Oren raise money for certain causes; some of those funds were then allegedly transferred in a complex manner to finance Sharon’s campaign. There are also suspicions about the role of Sharon’s lawyer and bureau chief, Dov Weisglass.
Police Deputy Commander Miri Golan, head of the fraud squad, has indicated she has enough evidence to prosecute the prime minister’s elder son, Likud lawmaker Omri Sharon, and prosecutors say they are certain such an indictment will be handed down against the freshman Knesset member.