Arbel: Evidence clearly shows that Sharon took bribes

Yuval Yoaz

Haaretz

June 26, 2004

The evidence paints a "clear and grim" picture of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accepting bribes from contractor and Likud power broker David Appel, former state prosecutor Edna Arbel wrote in her recommendation to indict Sharon in the so-called Greek island affair.

Arbel's opinion, first submitted to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz in March, was published yesterday for the first time. It was attached to Mazuz's response to three petitions to the High Court of Justice against his June 15 decision not to indict Sharon.

The petitions were filed by the Movement for Quality Government and opposition MKs Yossi Sarid (Meretz-Yahad) and Eitan Cabel (Labor). A seven-justice panel will hear the case on Tuesday.

Mazuz, unlike Arbel, concluded that there was insufficient proof to press bribery charges against either Sharon or his son, Gilad. The alleged bribe consisted of the exorbitant salary Appel paid Gilad for his work on the Greek island project.

"The evidence in this case does not lead us to the conclusion that there is any basis for an indictment," Mazuz said. "My decision on this case was not based on leniency toward the prime minister. The evidence was weak and did not add up to a solid case."

Nevertheless, Mazuz retreated yesterday from what ha d initially seemed to be a virtually unqualified declaration of Sharon's innocence.

"A decision not to indict does not constitute a certificate of legitimacy for the suspects' actions, and it certainly does not legitimize corruption or give backing to a connection between money and government," he wrote in his response to the petitions. "A prosecutor's decision not to indict due to insufficient evidence does not constitute a finding that no illegal acts were committed by the suspect. Such a decision means that the evidence before the prosecutor does not supply the necessary likelihood of conviction for a criminal trial."

Mazuz's associates said these statements were also included in an earlier version of his decision on the Sharon case, but were later removed, for two reasons: First, he believes a prosecutor's job is to focus on the criminal aspect of a case rather than the moral aspect, and second, he thought this qualification was sufficiently obvious not to need stating. Only when he saw that many people were treating his decision as a complete vindication of Sharon did he realize that to them, it was not obvious.

A comparison of the opinions written by Arbel and Mazuz reveals very different approaches. Arbel, who was recently appointed to the Supreme Court, treated all the events involving Appel, Sharon and Gilad that occurred between 1997 and 2003 as one unit. Thus she perceived a clear connection between Gilad's employment on the Greek island tourism project, the large sums of money he was paid, Appel's political support for Sharon, Appel's request for Sharon's assistance in getting lands that he owned near Lod rezoned for construction, and Sharon's presence at a dinner party where Appel was lobbying Greek officials about the Greek island project.

Mazuz, in contrast, paid close attention to chronology - such as the fact that Appel received some of the alleged benefits from Sharon several years before he hired Gilad, or the fact that much of the money Gilad received was paid while Sharon was in the opposition, and thus without influence in the government.

Mazuz also sought clear, specific evidence for the alleged crime, and gave great weight to the fact that more than two years of wiretapping Appel's conversations had failed to produce a smoking gun. Arbel's approach, in contrast, was to lay out the web of problematic circumstances and invite the court to draw its own conclusions.

"The complex network of events, occurrences and ties that came to light in this case ultimately adds up to a clear and gloomy picture of Sharon, in his roles as infrastructure minister and foreign minister, receiving a bribe from Appel - a monetary bribe, in the form of the high salary paid directly to Gilad, Sharon's son, as well as concrete promises of political support for his electoral campaign," wrote Arbel in the conclusion of her recommendation to indict. "Therefore, our recommendation is to charge Sharon with the crime of taking a bribe."

Earlier in her opinion, she wrote that "A riel Sharon's version essentially boils down to a vague statement of `I didn't know, I don't remember, I didn't understand.' In light of the facts, we opine that Sharon's version does not deserve to be believed."

That Appel's political support for Sharon was motivated by the hope of gaining favors rather than by ideological conviction was clear from the fact that he also, and often simultaneously, supported Sharon's rivals, Arbel wrote. The skepticism with which Sharon greeted Appel's promises of support also demonstrated that their relationship was one of interest rather than friendship.

Arbel also described the network of ties between them at length. For instance, she wrote, Sharon, then foreign minister, was the guest of honor at a dinner that Appel threw for Greek officials in an effort to persuade them to support the Greek island project (for which he needed the Greek government's approval). "A short time later, [Sharon] receives the pleasing news that his son will be employed on a tourism project, at a high salary, by his host" - that is, Appel.

The order of events, she stressed, was unimportant: The events "did not have to happen in any particular order. The overall picture, using the criteria of common sense, reveals a mutual relationship of give and take."

Moreover, she said, Appel's behavior contained a clear element of "cast your bread upon the waters, and in time you shall receive" - and bribes given in that fashion often do not have a clear temporal relationship to the hoped-for payment.

Arbel also rejected Sharon's claim that he was unaware of Appel's business interests, as they never discussed business matters. As proof, she cited a conversation in which Sharon asked Appel: "Is the island already ours?" As for Sharon's claim that he was unaware of the terms of Gilad's employment, that, she said, given his close relationship with his son, was "beyond belief" - especially since Appel had previously told him that "Gilad is soon going to be making big money."

I t was similarly inconceivable that Sharon, as he claimed, should be unaware of what Gilad was doing for this money, she said. And he certainly must have known that Gilad had no experience or expertise in the tourism field that would have justified his high salary.

Arbel's recommendation relates only to Sharon. However, the draft indictment that she prepared - which was also published for the first time yesterday - lists both Sharon and Gilad as defendants.

Mazuz did not include a third document - Arbel's summation of the evidence - in his response to the court, despite demands from Arbel's supporters in the prosecution that he do so.

The publication of Arbel's opinion served to reignite the political controversy over the very different conclusions that she and Mazuz reached. Some MKs, arguing that two such different opinions could not possibly both be right, demanded a thorough inquiry. Others took sides, with some supporting Arbel and others Mazuz.