An Israeli police officer said on Wednesday that the investigation into allegations that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's family took bribery from an Austrian businessman will not be completed before the March 28 elections.
"We are now in a new phase of the investigation, but there's no chance that it will be finished before the elections," Israeli Army Radio quoted the police officer as saying on condition of anonymity.
"This affair is infinite, and every new door opens another door, " the officer added.
He told the radio that there is also no chance that Attorney General Menachem Mazuz will be able to make a decision on whether to indict Sharon before the elections.
Sharon will lead his newly founded centrist Kadima party into the March elections, which, according to opinion polls, is poised to fare better than the right-wing Likud party and center-left Labor party.
Sharon quit Likud in November 2005 to avoid further confrontation with hardline Likud members who were infuriated by his disengagement plan, under which Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip in mid-September 2005.
Some senior police officers said the investigation will take several more months or perhaps even years.
Israeli Channel 10 TV reported Tuesday night that police had got evidence to prove that Sharon's family received 3 million U.S. dollars in bribes from Austrian businessman and casino magnate Martin Schlaff as an illegal campaign contribution.
Channel 10 TV showed a document it was said delivered by police to a court, which was found among the confiscated material from Schlaff's home in Israel, saying it had evidence of the bribery.
The TV reported that "during the investigation, prima facie evidence was found regarding the involvement of James Schlaff and his brother, Martin Schlaff, in transferring 3 million U.S. dollars to the prime minister's family."
However, a senior police source said late Tuesday that there is currently no evidence to support an indictment against Sharon, but a key Sharon aide named Lior Chorev refused to comment on the word of the police source.
The latest development of the investigation did not occur until the police raided and searched Martin Schlaff's house in Israel while his brother James Schlaff was visiting Israel.
According to the TV report, the police confiscated two laptops and palm pilots, which may have the information recording the alleged money transfer to the account of Sharon's family.
The money was seemingly transferred to the Sharons by Cyril Kern, a British businessman living in South Africa, but the police have long suspected that Kern was merely a front man covering someone else who actually supplied the money.
Jewish-Austrian businessman Martin Schlaff, who is one of the owners of both the Austria Casino and the Jericho Casino, has often been cited as a likely source of this money for he is not only a long-time friend of Sharon but also very close to Sharon's chief advisor, Attorney Dov Weissglas.
The Kern investigation began in 1999 following Sharon's victory in the Likud leadership primaries when the then Likud chairman went into debts to repay around 1.5 million dollars illegal campaign contributions.
In 2002, Sharon's sons Omri and Gilad received from an Austrian bank a 1.5-million-dollar loan, which is believed to originate from Kern, to repay the donations the family had taken.
After that, Omri and Gilad received two additional transfers totaling close to 3 million dollars from the Austrian bank BAWAG in November 2002.
Sharon used some of the 3 million dollars to repay illegal campaign contributions in accordance with his promise to the state comptroller, but retained the rest in his family accounts, according to the document revealed by Channel 10.
Following the Channel 10 report, a political establishment was set up on Tuesday to pursue the affair and opposition Knesset ( parliament) members called on Mazuz to decide as soon as possible whether an indictment against Sharon should be filed.
Sharon "must face the public" and rebut suspicions against him or explain how he got the money, Likud Knesset member Michael Eitan told Israel Radio on Wednesday.
Responding to the allegations against Sharon, Israeli secular party Shinui Chairman Yosef Lapid urged Mazuz to send Sharon to trial before the elections and called for depriving Sharon's right of running for the premiership if a trial does proceed.
Labor Party Knesset member Ofir Pines-Paz said "This is an earthquake in Israeli politics, which has reached a new low today, when the prime minister was accused for the first time of receiving bribes."
Chairman of the Knesset Ethics Committee Aryeh Eldad said "The nation of Israel is knowingly letting a crime family lead it, and the latest update is another link on the chain of the Sharon family's corruption."
The former chairman of the dovish Meretz Party Yossi Sarid also called on Sharon to quit the political arena to relief the public, saying "Sharon is a big apple, and as long as he rots, the entire box will rot. The rotting is horrible and more tangible and dangerous to Israel than any threats from outside."