Bribe charges against Sharon are dropped

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The Independent Online

Ariel Sharon, who is defying a coalition revolt against his planned evacuation of 21 Gaza settlements and four on the West Bank, has one fewer worry today. Menahem Mazuz, Israel's attorney general, said he was not going to indict the Prime Minister for alleged bribe-taking.

Ariel Sharon, who is defying a coalition revolt against his planned evacuation of 21 Gaza settlements and four on the West Bank, has one fewer worry today. Menahem Mazuz, Israel's attorney general, said he was not going to indict the Prime Minister for alleged bribe-taking.

The decision allows Mr Sharon to invite the Labour opposition party into government. Labour's 19 MPs have already given him a safety net to defeat no-confidence votes brought by right-wing critics. Its accession will restore his parliamentary majority, though he will still have to carry his own Likud behind the Gaza pullout.

State prosecutors had recommended charging Mr Sharon with promoting the business interests of an Israeli property magnate, alleged to have paid his younger son, Gilad, hundreds of thousands of dollars as a consultant in the development of an uninhabited Greek island as a casino resort.

But the last word rested with the attorney general, a cautious civil service lawyer appointed this year. Mr Mazuz said: "The evidence is not nearly sufficient for a conviction." Left-wing politicians are threatening to appeal against his decision to the Supreme Court, but legal experts say their chances of success are small.

Prosecution is still pending against the magnate, David Appel, who is charged with bribing Mr Sharon and other officials. His lawyers are expected to demand the case be dropped. If no one received a bribe, they say, no one gave one.

Police are still investigating Mr Sharon over foreign donations to his 1999 election campaign. The inquiry is not expected to finish until the end of next year, the 76-year-old former general's deadline for competing the Gaza withdrawal. Twelve of his 40 Likud MPs have vowed to fight the evacuation, as have 50 local party chairmen.

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