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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 January, 2004, 15:56 GMT
Sharon may face corruption charge
Prosecutors in Israel are considering charging Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his deputy in connection with a bribery scandal.

The Justice Ministry said a decision will be made within a few months.

It comes after an Israeli businessman was charged with offering millions of dollars in bribes to Mr Sharon, his deputy and one of Mr Sharon's sons.

The Israeli leader was questioned last year over the affair but denies any wrongdoing.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

The BBC's David Chazan in Jerusalem says the charges against the businessman, David Appel, could mean serious trouble for Mr Sharon.

Israeli media are speculating about whether Mr Sharon will face charges and, if so, whether that would force him to leave office, our correspondent says.

Mr Appel has been charged with trying to bribe the Israeli leader, his son Gilad and Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the late 1990s, in return for their help in a Greek property deal.

Mr Appel is also said to have helped Mr Sharon campaign for the leadership of the right-wing Likud party.

Resignation call

In what has become known in Israel as the "Greek island affair", the property developer is alleged to have paid Mr Sharon's son Gilad to work as a consultant for a tourism project in the late 1990s.

Prosecutors allege that money was in effect used as a bribe for Mr Sharon, who was then foreign minister.

There has been no reaction as yet from either Mr Sharon or Mr Olmert to the indictment.

Opposition MPs have already been calling for Mr Sharon's resignation.

David Appel
Property developer Appel has been indicted for offering bribes
"The prime minister should resign from his post," said former Labour finance minister Avraham Shochat. "He should already have resigned in the light of earlier events, what happened today is just an extra. He is polluting the atmosphere."

Gilad Sharon and his brother, Omri, are also known to have accepted about $1.5m from a friend of the prime minister's, South African businessman Cyril Kern.

It is not clear what the money was used for, but the national fraud squad suspects it was to repay illegal campaign contributions.

It is against the law to accept funds from abroad in Israeli political campaigns.

Analysts had said that the Kern affair posed no imminent threat to Mr Sharon's grip on power, but the latest allegations are the most specific and detailed to emerge so far.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's David Chazan
"The prime minister and Mr Appel both deny any wrongdoing"



SEE ALSO:
Profile: Ariel Sharon
21 Jan 04  |  Middle East
Sharon son told to submit files
10 Dec 03  |  Middle East
Fraud police quiz Ariel Sharon
30 Oct 03  |  Middle East
S Africa investigates Sharon loan claim
13 Jan 03  |  Middle East
Timeline: Sharon's controversial loan
13 Jan 03  |  Middle East



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