The scandal involves the Israeli prime minister, his sons and South African millionaire
As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote, the only force in Israel that can beat Ariel Sharon is Sharon himself. The Israeli prime minister has recently struck a very serious blow on himself. It was probably the strongest blow during his entire career in politics.
A political and financial scandal broke out in Israel, which got Sharon’s sons and friend involved. Specialists keep guessing, if the story will worsen Sharon’s shots to become the head of the Israeli government. The seeds of the scandal were planted in 1999, when Ariel Sharon won the primary election of the Likud leader. Israel’s controlling bodies carefully studied the funding of Sharon’s campaign. The result of their work appeared two years after the election.
State Controller Elizer Goldberg published a report, in which it was said that foreign investments in Sharon’s pre-election campaign were illegal. The controller demanded Sharon should return the money to the company Annex Research. However, this company was founded shortly before the election (probably, especially for the election) by Sharon’s lawyer, who is currently his aide. Sharon gave his first check to the company Annex Research several days after the announcement from the state controller. Ariel Sharon’s sons, Gilad and Omri, started searching for the rest of the sum to pay. Gilad raised a loan in Leumi Bank, which is situated not far from Sharon’s Sycamore Ranch, using the ranch as the guarantee of the loan. Later, the bank wished to reconsider the contract; the money should have been returned otherwise. South African businessman Cyril Kern, a friend of Sharon’s, helped his sons in January of the year 2002. He transferred some $1.5 million to Gilad and Omri from a bank account in Austria. It transpired in the Israeli press that Sharon had a conversation with the employees of a special division for struggle with economic crimes of the Israeli police. The conversation allegedly took place on April 22, 2002. As it was reported, Sharon said during that conversation that he had settled his accounts with the company Annex Research with the help of a loan that he raised in Leumi Bank. Sharon did not say that his sons got the money from Cyril Kern. Gilad used the money that he received from the South African businessman as a guarantee for a loan in another bank, Bank Discount in Tel Aviv. Th money arrived to Leumi from Discount, and this allowed to clear the first loan.
The scandal burst out on January 7th, after the publication of an article in the newspaper Haaretz. It was mentioned in the article that the Justice Ministry asked its colleagues in South Africa to investigate the story with Cyril Kern. According to the Israeli law, ministers were not allowed to accept foreign help. Ministerial officials believed that Sharon and his son Gilad concealed the real source of money from the state controller and from the police. Sharon’s major opponent at the coming election at the end of January, the opposition leader Amram Mitzna, called upon the prime minister either to resign or to explain all the facts that were mentioned in the press. Sharon's aides acknowledged that Sharon’s sons got the financial help from Kern. Yet, they added that it was not a bribery at all.
Cyril Kern, the godfather of Sharon’s son Gilad, explained to everyone that he decided to help his old friend, that was all. Kern did not understand, why Israelis had such a harsh reaction to that information. He stated that it might separate people during the time, when the nation's unification is vital. Cyril Kern also said that he was free to do anything he wanted with his money: “ "I can do what I like with my money. I helped a good friend and I have been paid back." Kern added that he had no economic interests in Israel. However, journalists managed to find out two firms, which he was intended to sell to Israel.
Israeli Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein was mad about the information leak from his ministry. He stated that the results of the investigation would be exposed only after the election of January 28th. After that Israeli journalists suggested Sharon should make up a slogan like this: “Vote for me, everything will be fine. I will show you my ranch. I will tell you, how I bought it after the election.”
Ariel Sharon did not like the whole story at all. He was very irritated during a teledebate with Mitzna, he did not want to talk about the details of the transaction with his frontline pal. The chairman of the Israeli central electoral committee decided to stop the television and radio broadcast of the discussion. Sharon made up his mind not to discuss the details of the transaction in public. It goes without saying that press did not like it. Naomi Blumenthal, the deputy infrastructure minister, wanted to use the same tactics, by the way. She was charged with bribing Likud activists on the threshold of the party election. Sharon fired her as a result. Now he is offered to use the same standards and to fire himself.
Sharon is not going to leave or to refuse from the election. Specialists believe that he will manage to keep his position of the prime minister despite such a grand scandal. However, the scandal might show a very strong negative influence on Sharon's party. They say that the right party might not be able to get the necessary half plus one vote at the election. If this happens, Sharon and Mitzna will have to be prime ministers by turn, one after another. The right political force of Israel is busy with something else. Likud’s PR-agents have already hired a group of “researchers” in order to study the previous activity of Labor Party leaders. The Likud Party is especially interested in construction contracts, that Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna signed.
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov