Bribery Charge Dogs Sharon ; Israel's Chief Prosecutor Recommends That the Prime Minister Be Indicted in Real Estate Influence-Buying Deal

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Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has tried to keep people focused on his big picture: shrinking the threat of terror attacks by assassinating Palestinian leaders while increasing Israel's security by promising a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and building a massive barrier through the West Bank.

But Mr. Sharon keeps getting dragged back into what he dismisses as the little picture: a series of bribery allegations that now threaten to bring him down.

Israel's chief prosecutor is recommending that Sharon be indicted on corruption charges and has prepared an indictment against him, according to a series of leaks to Israeli media this weekend. It is now up to Israel's attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, to decide in the coming weeks whether the Israeli leader will be brought up on bribery charges.

But Sharon's career has regularly been marked by periods of great controversy, all of which he has managed to survive. In nearly 50 years of being a force to be reckoned with in Israeli military and political life, few can point to a moment when the man nicknamed "The Bulldozer" backed down. And now, despite suggestions from within his own coalition that he will have to step down from office if he is indicted, few expect Sharon to leave the premier's seat unless forced to go.

"From a legal point of view, he has the full authority to remain in office, and he has the characteristic of being a man who ignores all criticism," says Moshe Negbi, a prominent Israeli legal analyst. But if Sharon is formally indicted, legal precedent suggests he would have to step down.

"There is clear-cut evidence from the Supreme Court, which ruled 11 years ago that a person cannot serve in a major national capacity if he is under indictment," says Mr. Negbi. This ruling has been applied to a cabinet minister, but never to a prime minister.

Adversity and 'adventurism'

Sharon's deepening troubles leave in doubt his ambitious agenda - from defending the decision last week to kill Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin to a mid-April White House visit aimed at persuading the Bush administration of the merits of Sharon's disengagement plan. "Everything he does from now on will be seen as something he has done because of his legal trouble. This will make him a lame duck, and that's the real trouble," says Mr. Negbi. "There are claims already on the far right that the whole disengagement plan is over his legal problems."

If other politicians have been said to be made of teflon, Sharon seems suited with full body armor. He gained a reputation for "adventurism" as a young commander showing a brazen reluctance to follow orders that made him a hero in the eyes of some - and a danger in the eyes of others. Domestically, he was one of the architects of the drive to settle the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the territories Israel captured in the 1967 Israeli- Arab war.

It was during the war in Lebanon that Sharon became a household name. Sharon, then defense minister, was accused of having allowed Christian Phalangist militiamen to enter the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps near Beirut and massacre between 700 and 2,000 civilians in 1982. Afterwards, an Israeli investigation found Sharon responsible for "disregarding the danger of acts of revenge and bloodshed," and chastised him "for not taking appropriate measures to prevent or limit this danger. …