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Corruption Charges Against Sharon Dropped - 2004-06-15

Israel's attorney-general says there is insufficient evidence to prosecute Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on corruption charges. The decision is seen by observers as a political boost for Mr. Sharon while he tries to build a new government coalition and implement his plan for disengagement from some Palestinian areas.

In a televised news conference, Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz announced he is closing the corruption case against Prime Minister Sharon.

He made his decision after a government legal team rejected the recommendations of the former chief state prosecutor, Edna Arbel, who recommended Mr. Sharon and his son Gilad, be charged with accepting bribes from Israeli property developer David Appel. Mrs. Arbel has since been appointed to Israel's Supreme Court .

Mr. Appel was alleged to have sought Mr. Sharon's assistance to get the support of the Greek government in building a tourist project on a Greek island.

While promoting the project, Mr. Appel hired Mr. Sharon's son as a highly paid adviser, allegedly to win the influence of the prime minister.

The attorney-general said evidence from the investigation did not provide a basis for prosecuting either the prime minister or his son. He said during key periods in which the alleged misconduct occurred, Mr. Sharon was in the opposition and could not help the developer.

The decision to drop all charges opens the way for Mr. Sharon to begin formal negotiations with the Opposition Labor Party to join his coalition.

Labor parliamentary representative, Haim Ramon, said his party is ready to deal. "In the minute that [Mr. Sharon] will ask us to open negotiations with him, we will do it," he said, "and the main issues will not be the question if he will be indicted or not but the question of disengagement, Gaza, the evacuation of the [Jewish] settlers, and major issues, social, and economic issues."

The negotiations with Labor are seen as crucial to the long-term survival of Mr. Sharon's government and his disengagement plan. His coalition has been reduced to 59 seats in the 120-member Israeli parliament, following the resignation of two cabinet ministers.

Observers say that Mr. Sharon will need to bring Labor into the government to ensure the withdrawal plan is approved by the parliament and the disengagement is carried out by the end of next year.