Sharon defies calls to resign as his troubles mount over bribery scandal

Ariel Sharon defied calls yesterday for him to resign as Israeli Prime Minister and vowed to stay in office until his term ends in 2007, despite claims by Israel's acting Attorney General that there is enough evidence to indict him on bribery charges.

A poll in the Israeli newspaper Maariv showed that 53 per cent of Israelis believe Mr Sharon was involved in misconduct and 63 per cent say he should resign if the allegations against him are proved. A poll for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth showed that 49 per cent of Israelis believe he should resign immediately or suspend himself and 38 per cent believe he should stay on.

Mr Sharon telephoned a journalist for Yediothon Wednesday to tell him he was not going to resign. Mr Sharon told the journalist Simon Shiffer: "I'm calling you so that there should be no mistake. I am not about to resign. I stress: I am not about to resign. I am busy with work from morning until night and I have no intention of making time for issues that are under examination."

Mr Sharon told a Likud Party youth meeting: "I came here as prime minister and the chairman of the Likud party ... a position I intend to fill for many years, at least until 2007."

General elections are scheduled for 2007.

On Wednesday a prominent Israeli businessman, David Appel, was charged with bribing Mr Sharon with almost $700,000 (£379,800) in 1999. Mr Sharon has not been charged with taking bribes. Israeli legal experts say the distinction hinges on whether Mr Sharon knew he was being bribed.

Mr Appel is charged with bribing Mr Sharon, then the Foreign Minister, to persuade the Greek authorities to allow him to develop land on the Greek island of Patroklos as a tourist resort and casino. He is also charged with bribing Mr Sharon to have farmland he owned in Israel re-zoned so it could be developed commercially.

Mr Appel hired Mr Sharon's son, Gilad, as the marketing adviser for the project, even though he had no obvious qualifications for the job, and agreed to pay him more than $3m (£1.63m). Gilad received $100,000 (£54,260), and Mr Appel transferred $580,000 (£314,723) to a ranch business owned by the Sharon family and managed by Gilad. Mr Appel is alleged to have told Mr Sharon: "Your son Gilad will receive a lot of money."

Mr Appel has also been charged with bribing the deputy Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. Mr Olmert has not been charged.

The decision on whether to bring charges against Mr Sharon will rest with the Attorney General. The post is currently vacant but a new Attorney General is due to be appointed on Monday. Mr Sharon and Mr Olmert are not expected to vote in the appointment.

Mr Sharon has already been questioned by police butis expected to be questioned again. He may also be questioned on a separate investigation into unlawful campaign contributions and a subsequent alleged attempt to use a loan from Cyril Kern, a British-born businessman to repay them.

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