Ariel Sharon's son pleads guilty on corruption charges when he did fund-raising for father's campaign

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's eldest son pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges of illegal fund-raising for his father's 1999 election campaign, raising the specter of a prison term and putting his political future in jeopardy.

Omri Sharon, a member of Israel's parliament, appeared briefly in a Tel Aviv court to admit to falsifying corporate documents, perjury and violating party funding laws.

Asked by Judge Edna Beckinstein if he confessed to the charges, he answered, "Yes Ma'am" then remained silent for the rest of the proceedings.

Under a plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges of fraud and breach of trust but are demanding imprisonment on the other counts.

"The fact that he tried to cover up his offenses necessitates an appropriate punishment," Tel Aviv District Attorney Erez Noreali said.

Sentencing is scheduled for January. The charges carry a maximum of five years in prison, but the sentence is expected to be much lighter. Some analysts said the court could limit punishment to a suspended sentence or community service.

"We admit the violations ... he takes full responsibility," said Omri Sharon's lawyer, Dan Sheinman. "He has to pay a price, but the price has to be very, very moderate."

Omri Sharon and his brother, Gilad, helped their father to victory in a 1999 primary in the Likud Party, overseeing parts of the campaign and the fund-raising activities.

Sheinman said the premier was unaware of details of his sons' activities. The prime minister did not comment publicly on his son's plea.

Ariel Sharon's two terms as prime minister have been marred by scandals over shady campaign financing and real estate deals, but he has escaped indictment.

Israeli campaign law allows candidates to collect 800,000 shekels ($169,000, Ђ144,530) each for party primaries, an amount that Sheinman said was unrealistically low. Omri Sharon collected about 6 million shekels (US$1.3 million, Ђ1.1 million).

The law has never been enforced, and legislators are now updating the rules with higher figures, a process which should be complete by the time of the sentencing hearing and which defense attorneys are sure to bring up. Character witnesses will also testify that Omri Sharon is an upstanding public figure, Sheinman said.

"All of these things have great significance regarding the punishment," he added.

Under Israeli law a member of parliament sent to prison is suspended from his seat.

Next in line to replace Omri Sharon on the Likud party list is Pnina Rosenblum, a former beauty queen and cosmetics entrepreneur. Rosenblum says he should step down now, without waiting for the final word from the court.

"The moment a person admits the things he's done, as a member of parliament and as son of the prime minister, I expect him to resign," she told Israeli TV, AP reported. V.A.

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