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 Monday, 13 January, 2003, 17:49 GMT
Timeline: Sharon's controversial loan
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Mr Sharon lashed out at the allegations
When Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called early elections late last year, all indications were that he would coast to an easy and commanding victory.

But in the wake of allegations that he received an improper loan of nearly $1.5m, poll ratings plummeted - prompting doubts that he could even hang on to his post.

Here is a short history of the allegations against Mr Sharon:

May 1999: Ariel Sharon defeats Binyamin Netanyahu in a contest for leadership of the centre-right Likud party.

October 2001: State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg finds that a company established by one of Mr Sharon's top aides paid 5.9m shekels (now $1.22m) to professionals who worked on Mr Sharon's leadership campaign - a violation of party financing regulations but not a criminal offence.

He orders Mr Sharon to repay 4.7m shekels (now $976,000).

Mr Sharon later says he is "amazed by these findings" and tells his sons Omri and Gilad "all the money must be immediately returned to the donors without delay".

4 October: Mr Sharon hands over 500,000 shekels as part of the repayment. He later says the funds come from his and his late wife's savings. His sons seek a source to cover the rest of the repayment.

22 October: Gilad Sharon applies to Bank Leumi for a 4.2m shekel loan, offering the Sharon family ranch as collateral.

The loan is granted and Mr Sharon uses it to pay back the rest of the donors.

However, routine enquiries by Bank Leumi find that the Sharon family does not own the ranch, according to Israel's liberal daily Ha'aretz; it is allegedly federal property leased by the Sharons.

The bank demands alternative collateral.

15 January 2002: Cyril Kern, an old friend of Ariel Sharon's, transfers $1.5m to a bank account held by Mr Sharon's sons.

April 2002: Police question Mr Sharon about how he repaid the 1999 donors. He tells them his sons took out a loan with the ranch as collateral and refers them to his son Omri.

He later says "I didn't know exactly how the money was collected. We spoke about mortgaging the ranch and to the best of my knowledge that was indeed done at the time. When I was asked about it by the police that is what I said."

"If it later transpired that another way had been found, then that is all to the better."

30 April 2002: Mr Sharon's sons take out a new loan from Discount Bank, allegedly using the funds from Mr Kern as collateral.

They pay back the first loan to Bank Leumi.

7 January 2003: Ha'aretz reports that the attorney general has opened an investigation into the loan from Mr Kern and has requested help from the South African ministry of justice.

The attorney general confirms the investigation is taking place but attacks the leak of its existence as politically motivated.

8 January: Mr Sharon attacks the allegation of impropriety as "despicable political libel" and vows to prove he did nothing wrong. His Likud party - already the subject of a police investigation due to an earlier vote-buying allegation - falls sharply in opinion polls.

Mr Kern confirms that the loan was made but denies there was anything improper about it. He says he has no business interests in Israel.

9 January: Mr Sharon calls a news conference to reject the allegations against him.

Central Election Committee chairman Mishael Chernin orders a blackout of the live broadcast halfway through, ruling that it has become a party political broadcast, which is banned in the run-up to an election.

10 January: The South African ministry of justice tells the BBC it will co-operate with the Israeli attorney general's request for assistance in its investigation.

13 January: South Africa says it will launch an investigation "into the donation made by Mr Cyril Kern to Mr Ariel Sharon".

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Jeremy Cooke
"Still, his robust self-defence will be widely reported"

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10 Jan 03 | Media reports
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