Israel Police says Austrian tycoon behind illicit funding of former PM's family
Austrian billionaire Martin Schlaff illegally transferred 4.5 million U.S. dollars to the bank accounts of the two sons of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, according to a just-released seven-year Israeli police investigation, Xinhua reported.
Investigators of the police international fraud squad are recommending Schlaff be indicted on bribery charges, and that Gilad and Omri Sharon be charged with serving as "conduits for a bribe," according to the local Ha'aretz daily.
"This is one of the gravest corruption affairs investigated by the fraud squad," chief investigator Nahum Levi told the newspaper.
"It involved transfers of millions of dollars to the Sharon family. This was a particularly complex investigation because in it, an attempt was made to blur the source of the money via transfers from different countries of the world. Now, the file is supposed to go to the prosecution for an effort to translate the evidence in this grave case into an indictment," Levy said.
Investigators said Austrian officials stonewalled Israeli requests for assistance.
"The request (to Austria) for legal cooperation took a very long time, compared to other places in the world," according to attorney Irit Kahan, the former head of the international division of the State Prosecutor's Office. "And during the course of submitting the requests, there were a number of court decisions in Austria that made me wonder," she said.
An investigation by the newspaper claims that Schlaff also aided many other public officials, although the legality of the alleged assistance is unclear.
Lawyers for Schlaff and Gilad Sharon had no comment on the report or the police investigation.
Ariel Sharon was felled by a massive stroke in Jan 2006, and remains in a deep coma in an Israeli medical facility.