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Police question Israel's Sharon in funding scandal
( 2003-10-30 17:14) (Agencies)

Israeli police questioned Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Thursday for the first time over two political funding scandals that could dent his widespread public support among Israelis.

Police are investigating the right-wing leader and his two sons over a $1.5 million loan from a South Africa-based friend used as collateral to repay what judicial authorities found to have been illegal contributions to Sharon's campaign for election as Likud party chief in 1999.

Another scandal revolves around what police say was a bid by a developer with Likud ties to buy a Greek resort island with the help of Sharon when he was foreign minister by employing his son Gilad and donating to his campaign chest.

Sharon has denied any wrongdoing and promised to cooperate with the investigation.

Sharon was questioned at his official residence in Jerusalem, police sources said.

Political commentators said that while Sharon's image has been tarnished in Israel, he faces no imminent risk of being forced from office as he still enjoys strong public support for his tough approach to a three-year-old Palestinian uprising.

But a recent opinion poll found the majority of Israelis would like Sharon to resign if evidence was found of misconduct.

Much of the publicity around the case has focused on Gilad Sharon's refusal to answer police questions or hand over documents, citing his right to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination.

Police have been investigating the scandals for months and have also questioned Sharon's other son, Omri, a Likud legislator.

Sharon's predecessors, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, were also the subject of corruption investigations that ultimately failed to yield criminal charges against them.

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