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Prosecution lacks evidence to charge sharon
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Prosecution Lacks Evidence to Charge Sharon -TV
Wed Apr 28, 2004 03:28 PM ET
By Allyn Fisher-Ilan
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An interim legal report has found Israeli prosecutors lack enough evidence to charge Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a bribery scandal that has threatened to topple him, a television station said Wednesday.
The news will give Sharon a welcome boost as he heads toward a neck-and-neck referendum of his right-wing Likud party Sunday on a Gaza Strip pullout plan that has shaken Middle East peacemaking to the core.
Israel's chief prosecutor has officially recommended bringing charges against Sharon in the bribery case.
But Channel Two television said an advisory team set up by Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz had gone over the prosecutor's draft repeatedly and decided there was insufficient evidence.
"They all reached the conclusion that the case stinks, but you don't win in court based on bad feelings," the television said, adding the findings would be presented to Mazuz next week.
A Justice Ministry spokesman said no decision had been made yet. Sources close to the investigation said there were still a lot of consultations to come. Sharon's office declined immediate comment.
"WAIT AND SEE"
"It's all speculation. We'll have to wait and see," said one senior political source.
The case centers on payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars that an Israeli land developer and Likud stalwart made to Sharon's son Gilad, whom he hired in the late 1990s as an adviser on a never-completed project to build a Greek resort.
A focus for prosecutors was whether Sharon, foreign minister at the time, tried to help win Greek government approval for the enterprise, promoted by Likud kingmaker David Appel, now on trial on related bribery charges.
Sharon denies any wrongdoing.
The case has threatened to damage Sharon politically as he tries to push through the plan to abandon the Gaza Strip while keeping big chunks of the West Bank.
The "Disengagement Plan" faces a crucial test Sunday in a ballot by more than 193,000 members of the Likud party -- many of whom oppose ceding any land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and brand Sharon's plan a "victory for terror."
Political sources say private opinion polls show the camps for and against the plan running almost level.
Sharon is due to intensify his media campaign Thursday with radio interviews to warn of the strategic dangers of not backing the plan to uproot all the Jewish settlements in Gaza and four small ones in the West Bank.
But his supporters fear he could be in real trouble if Palestinian militants stage a promised revenge attack for Israel's assassination of two top leaders of the Hamas group this year.
A Palestinian suicide car bomber hurt four Israeli soldiers who stopped him reaching a Jewish settlement Wednesday.
Soldiers opened fire at a suspicious jeep, marked with an Israeli flag, speeding toward the settlement of Kfar Darom shortly after dawn. Moments later the jeep exploded, killing the driver. Hamas claimed responsibility.
Palestinians suspect Sharon's pullout plan is a ruse to annex large tracts of West Bank land they want for a state.
(Additional reporting by Gwen Ackerman)
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