TEL AVIV (Reuters) -Prime Minister Ariel Sharon”s son pleaded guilty on Tuesday in a campaign funding scandal that could pose a challenge to the Israeli leader ahead of expected early elections.
Omri Sharon, a lawmaker and key adviser to his father, had previously said he would argue against charges he set up shell companies to funnel foreign donations to his father”s 1999 race to head the right-wing Likud Party.
But Omri Sharon”s attorney said at the opening of his trial in Tel Aviv that he would not contest some of the counts on the indictment as part of a plea bargain with state prosecutors.
"It was important for Omri to plead guilty and take full responsibility," attorney Dan Sheinmann told reporters.
Although no charges were brought against the prime minister in the case, the scandal has embarrassed him at a time when he battles Likud hardliners angered by the Israeli pullout from Gaza and struggles to keep together his coalition government.
Omri Sharon had been accused of perjury, fraud, and breach of trust, which carry a maximum 7-year prison sentence. Under the plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to reduced charges of forgery and violating campaign laws that limit foreign funding.
Lawyers have asked prosecutors to levy a cash fine only. The Justice Ministry said it would seek jail time, though this was expected to be less than the 4 years allowed by law.
Israeli television has said that Omri Sharon could be offered a nine-month prison term, on condition he quit politics.
Sharon had denied any wrongdoing in the case, saying Omri and a second son, Gilad, alone handled the financing for his 1999 primary campaign.
Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz decided in February against indicting the prime minister, citing lack of evidence following a three-year investigation. Related charges were dropped against two of Sharon”s former senior advisers.
Sharon is expected to face early elections next year as a surprise leadership change in the Labour party, a key partner, has brought his ruling coalition to the verge of collapse.
Elections had been due in November 2006.
The prime minister is also facing a rebellion by Likud rightists and backers who accuse him of betraying party ideals by withdrawing from Gaza in September after 38 years of occupation. Some ultranationalists suggested Sharon devised the pullout as a means of ducking his legal woes.