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Sharon indictment decision expected next week

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JERUSALEM — Israel's attorney general was expected to decide next week whether to indict Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on corruption charges, a Justice Ministry spokesman said Thursday.

A probe into whether Sharon accepted bribes from a powerful real estate developer has dogged the prime minister for months.

Israeli media reported last month that Attorney General Meni Mazuz does not believe there is enough evidence to indict Sharon. Mazuz angrily denied the reports.

If he decides not to press charges, Sharon could get a strong push as he tries to move forward with plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

Israel Radio reported Wednesday the decision would be announced by June 15, a date that Justice Ministry spokesman Jacob Galanti refused to confirm.

Authorities suspect that Israeli businessman David Appel paid Sharon's son, Gilad, hundreds of thousands of dollars to help push through a lucrative real estate deal in Greece when Sharon was foreign minister in 1999. In the end, the project did not go through.

Appel has already been indicted for allegedly paying the bribes, and the state prosecutor has recommended that Mazuz indict the Sharons. Under Israeli law, prosecutors must prove that the recipient of a bribe was aware of the improper payments.

Sharon has been accused by critics of pushing forward with his Gaza withdrawal plan to divert attention from the corruption charges.

Left with a fragile minority in parliament, Sharon is expected to invite the opposition Labor Party into his coalition to ensure a stable government and proceed with the plan.

Labor has said it will not decide whether to join the government unless Sharon is cleared in the corruption case.