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Israel's New Attorney General to Decide on Sharon Bribery Charges


Israel's cabinet has selected a new attorney general, one of whose first tasks will be to decide whether to charge Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in connection with bribery allegations. Some lawyers in the Israeli Justice Ministry have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to launch a prosecution.

The Israeli cabinet approved Deputy Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to serve as the country's top legal officer.

One of the first items on Mr. Mazuz's new agenda will be to determine whether Mr. Sharon should be indicted for allegedly accepting bribes from an Israeli property developer, David Appel.

Mr. Appel was charged last week with paying Mr. Sharon a total of $690,000 in 1999 to promote a project in Greece. At the time, Mr. Sharon was foreign minister and attempting a bid for the leadership of the Likud Party.

Mr. Appel also allegedly sought Mr. Sharon's influence to win approval for land deals near Tel Aviv.

The indictment in the Tel Aviv Magistrates' Court says Mr. Appel paid the money though Mr. Sharon's son Gilad, who was hired as an adviser, even though he did not appear to have any relevant qualifications.

Neither Mr. Sharon nor his son has been charged, but lawyers in the Justice Ministry say investigations are continuing, and some believe there is already enough evidence to issue indictments.

The final say will rest with Mr. Mazuz.

Mr. Sharon and his deputy, Ehud Olmert, did not take part in the cabinet vote because this may have been seen as a clear conflict of interest.

Mr. Olmert is also implicated in the indictment against Mr. Appel. He is alleged to have received bribes from the property developer when he was mayor of Jerusalem in the late 1990s, to help win support for the project in Greece.

Mr. Mazuz has not commented on the case, but his brother, Baruch, told Israel army radio that he would make a determination on purely legal grounds.

The brother says the new attorney general does not identify himself with anyone politically and is aware of the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. He said Mr. Mazuz would make what he called a "clean decision."

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