Prime Minister Ariel Sharon raised illegal campaign funds during his
just-completed trip to New York, Channel Ten reported Monday.
Sharon returned home Monday afternoon, and Channel 10 quoted his office as
saying that the prime minister was not aware of the fund-raising.
Sharon was in New York to attend the annual General Assembly session.
Channel 10 showed footage of the entrance to a swanky Fifth Avenue
apartment building in Manhattan, where Sharon met wealthy supporters for dinner
on Sunday evening.
A Channel 10 reporter read from an invitation sent by Nina Rosenwald,
identified as the heiress of the Sears empire, stating that people attending
the dinner with Sharon in her apartment would be expected to contribute at least
$10,000 to Sharon's campaign to retain Likud leadership against a challenge
from former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The election law limits such contributions to a primary election campaign
Channel Ten interviewed real estate magnate Larry Silverstein in the
building lobby after the dinner. He described Sharon as "extraordinary.
The man is brilliant, enormous energy, great conviction, tremendous courage,
and we applaud him for what he has done." Asked if Sharon thanked him for
his contribution. Silverstein said, "No, but not necessary. We're here
to support the man."
Other participants said donations were not discussed at the dinner. Sharon
ally and Israel Bonds head Yehoshua Matza, who was with Sharon at the dinner,
said, "Not a word was spoken about those subjects."
Channel 10 quoted officials at Sharon's office as expressing surprise about
the wording of the invitation and insisting that Sharon did not know about any
fund-raising at the event.
Sharon has run afoul of authorities over campaign contributions in the past,
though he has never been charged. Police continue to investigate a shady loan
from South African businessman Cyril Kern, taken to cover illegal contributions
in a 1999 primary election campaign.