JERUSALEM – Israel's Supreme Court on Monday ordered Ariel Sharon's son to hand over potentially incriminating tapes and documents in two corruption investigations, including one that targets the prime minister.
The court ruling was seen as another step toward Sharon's possible resignation. Israel's vice premier, Ehud Olmert (search), said Monday that despite growing legal troubles, Sharon is determined to go ahead with a proposed withdrawal from much of the Gaza Strip.
On Sunday, Israel's chief prosecutor recommended that the prime minister and his son Gilad be indicted in the so-called "Greek Island Affair," in which a real estate developer allegedly paid them hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for help in promoting a tourism project.
However, the final decision on whether to indict Ariel Sharon for bribe-taking is up to Israel's attorney general who is expected to rule within a month.
Gilad Sharon (search) has not cooperated with police, refusing to answer questions or hand over tapes and documents seen as crucial in the investigation.
On Monday, the Supreme Court ended an eight-month legal battle and ordered Gilad Sharon to comply with a lower ruling that he hand over the material.
Gilad Sharon's lawyer, Micha Fettman, said his client would comply, but suggested it might take time to obtain the documents. He said Gilad Sharon would have to get the documents requested by the court from third parties.
At issue in the "Greek Island Affair" is an attempt by real estate developer David Appel (search) to promote a tourism project on a Greek island in 1999, at a time when Sharon was foreign minister. Appel hired Gilad Sharon as an adviser and allegedly paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars.
At the time, investigators were wiretapping Appel, the Haaretz daily said Monday. According to one tape, Appel told the elder Sharon in one conversation that "your son is going to earn a lot of money," the Haaretz daily reported Monday.
At a later point in the conversation, Sharon said: "The island is in our hands."
Haaretz said Sharon's statement was one of the pieces of evidence that persuaded state attorney Edna Arbel to recommend an indictment.
Miriam Rosenthal, a former senior official in the prosecutor's office, said she considers Sharon's response incriminating.
"If you take the connotation of the remarks 'the island is in our hands,' this is almost equivalent to a confession," Rosenthal told Israel Army Radio. "Something here doesn't look good."
However, the attorney general, Meni Mazuz, considers the case "problematic" because of the lack of conclusive evidence that Sharon accepted a bribe, the Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported Monday. Mazuz plans to consult with other jurists before making a final decision, media reports said.
Opposition lawmakers have called on Sharon to resign in light of the state attorney's recommendation. Infrastructure Minister Josef Paritzky said Sunday that Sharon must resign if an indictment is issued, or his Shinui Party will withdraw from the coalition.
In a second corruption case, police are investigating a US$1.5 million loan from a South African businessman to Sharon's two sons, Gilad and Omri, used to cover illegal contributions to his 1999 election campaign.
The developments in the case come as Sharon is formulating a plan to withdraw from much of Gaza and a few West Bank settlements. Analysts have said that, in light of the suspicions, Sharon may speed up the implementation of the plan since it is widely supported by the public.
The Palestinian Authority said it considers Sharon's growing legal problems to be an internal Israeli matter.
"But we worry that the Israeli government may attempt to divert the attention of the Israeli public from this corruption scandal by more Palestinian assassinations, incursions and bloodshed," said Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat.