JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli police are to examine computer data which they believe will show Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s family received an alleged three million dollar bribe, public radio reported.
Police officials confirmed late Tuesday that several laptop computers and mobile phones belonging to the family of Austrian financier Martin Schlaff had been seized during a raid in December.
Investigators believe the data contains fresh evidence which will enable them to move forward with a long-running investigation into a corruption scandal surrounding the Sharon family which concerns illegal campaign contributions during the 1999 elections.
Until now, police have been unable to examine the equipment following a legal appeal by Schlaff’s brother, James, that saw a court order temporarily prevent them from accessing the data, police said.
However, Schlaff has since gone back on his complaint, meaning police will have access to the data “within the coming days”, public radio said.
Police believe some of the money was used by the Sharon family to pay back campaign contributions which had been deemed illegal.
The story emerged late Tuesday after the private Channel 10 television obtained a police document outlining their suspicions which was submitted earlier this week to a magistrates court near Tel Aviv.
Officials in Sharon’s office flatly refused to comment on the report.
However Roni Bar-On, chairman of Sharon’s centrist Kadima party, dismissed the report as a political leak aimed at disrupting the March elections in Israel.
“Nothing has been formally presented to the prime minister, and since the issue was first made public, the prime minister has been re-elected twice,” he said, noting that the corruption scandal was first made public just before the 2003 elections.
“And this time, it is the same story from the same source, with the same problematic timing — one or two months before the election.”
Speaking to Israel public television, Nevot Teltsur, legal counsel for the Schlaff brothers, said there was nothing new in the police investigation and implied that the timing of the report was far from coincidental.
“I don’t know of any evidence which apparently proves such a thing,” he said late Tuesday.
“There has been no breakthrough in the investigation except for an additional leak from the file, maybe in order to keep this file live on the eve of the elections, which is something I view as extremely serious.”