Sharon Won't Resign Despite Bribery Allegations

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Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) said in a newspaper interview published Thursday that he will not resign despite corruption allegations and the possibility he might be indicted in coming weeks.

Sharon also said the burgeoning scandal will not deflect his attention from what he considers more pressing issues.

"I am not about to resign. I emphasize, I am not about to resign. I am busy with work from morning to night, and I do not intend to make time for issues that are under investigation," the Yediot Ahronot daily quoted Sharon as saying.

Justice Ministry officials said Wednesday they will decide within months whether to indict the prime minister for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from a real-estate developer, who was charged with giving him the money.

"There are many issues that I am dealing with," Sharon told Yediot, referring, among other things, to an upcoming hearing at the world court in The Hague, Netherlands, on the legality of a security barrier Israel is building in the West Bank (search).

An Israeli court on Wednesday indicted real-estate developer David Appel (search) for allegedly paying $690,000 in bribes to Sharon.

A Dahaf Institute poll published in Yediot on Thursday found that 49 percent of Israelis believe the prime minister should resign or suspend himself from office. The poll questioned 504 people. The margin of error was 4.4 percent.

Opposition politicians urged Sharon to resign now, and a leadership struggle in the ruling Likud Party already was brewing.

Sharon's spokesman, Assaf Shariv, said the prime minister could not comment on the case because of the investigation.

"I can guarantee there will not be an indictment," he told The Associated Press.

Sharon is likely to fight a fierce battle to maintain his leadership.

"He will fight until the last bullet," Israel Radio political analyst Hanan Crystal said.

For Sharon to be charged, prosecutors must be convinced that a bribe was accepted with criminal intent. Justice Ministry officials said on condition of anonymity that they expected to complete an investigation within several months and then decide on an indictment.

The scandal is known as the "Greek Island Affair." Sharon's son, Gilad, allegedly received money from Appel, an activist in the senior Sharon's Likud Party, who was trying to promote a massive tourism project in Greece in 1999. Ariel Sharon was foreign minister at the time.

Appel is accused of giving Ariel Sharon money to promote the Greek Island project, and to help rezone urban land near Tel Aviv before and during his term as prime minister.

Ariel Sharon was allegedly asked to use his influence to push forward both projects, although neither came to fruition.

The indictment alleges that Appel sent a total of $690,000 to Sharon's family ranch in the Negev desert and that Appel promised to support Ariel Sharon in party primary elections.

The indictment also charged Appel with giving a bribe to Vice Premier Ehud Olmert to promote the Greek project when Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem in the late 1990s.

The indictment said Gilad Sharon, while hired as a consultant in the Greek project, served as a middleman in accepting the bribes.

Appel's lawyer, Moshe Israel, denied the charges.

"There is no doubt he is innocent," he said.

The indictment further complicated Ariel Sharon's legal problems. He also is being investigated for alleged involvement in illegal campaign financing.

If Ariel Sharon is charged, he would be forced to leave office while the case is pending. But the prime minister also could face pressure from the public and within his own party to step down before that.

Several Israeli ministers have been forced out of office in recent years due to legal run-ins. However, lengthy investigations against former prime ministers, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, did not result in indictments.