Ariel Sharon's son admits political fundraising offences

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The Independent Online

The Israeli Prime Minister's son Omri, a Knesset member, was on the brink of ending his political career after being convicted on charges arising out of the funding of his father's 1999 party leadership campaign.

Sharon Jnr earlier entered a plea bargain admitting charges of keeping false corporate records, providing false testimony, and violating political fundraising laws. He is not expected to be sentenced until the end of the year, and after his guilty plea is expected to pay a penalty much less severe than the maximum five-year prison sentence.

The conviction could bring political funding and corruption further up the agenda in a general election which likely to take place next spring. But the guilty plea by Sharon means that he is likely to bear the full brunt of the charges of illegal funding of the campaign which secured his father the Likud leadership.According to the indictment, Omri Sharon received around £730,000 in campaign contributions from corporations in Israel and abroad between July 1999 and February 2000 - a figure which the prosecution said exceeds the funding caps.

The Knesset member and close lieutenant of his father is accused of transferring the money into a specially created company called Annex Research. The campaign allegedly paid most suppliers and service providers through Annex Research rather than through the Sharon camp's official bank account.

The one shadow still hanging over the Prime Minister himself is a continuing investigation into payments by the South Africa-based businessman Cyril Kern which were allegedly made to cover the cost of repayment of illegal campaign contributions. The investigation is said to be progressing very slowly.

The original indictment, issued on 28 August, accuses Sharon of fraudulent registration of corporate documents, lying under oath and breach of corporate trust. Sharon's defence lawyer, Dan Scheinman, said during the hearing: "It was important for Omri to confess and assume full responsibility for his actions." But he added: "The political fundraising law is a law that cannot be abided by. It represents a trap for everyone who wishes to participate in the elections."