Report: Sharon raised illegal campaign funds in New York

By The Associated Press

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 to $7,800.

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.