Ariel Sharon denies accusation of influencing witness

Police confirmed that on Tuesday they had questioned for 11 hours Avigdor Ben Gal, a former army general who testified in an unsuccessful libel trial Sharon had brought against the Israeli daily Ha'aretz.

Sharon had sued Ha'aretz for an article which said that as defense minister in 1982, he had concealed from then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin plans he had for a far-reaching operation into Lebanon during the Lebanon War.

In support of its defense, Ha'aretz had requested the citation of a lecture given by Ben Gal, who had served as head of the Israeli army northern command at the time of the Lebanon War. Sharon had demanded that Ben Gal testify in person.

When Ben Gal appeared before the court in June 1997, his testimony contradicted the remarks he had made in the lecture at Tel Aviv University. In that earlier address, Ben Gal had stated that one of the problems of the Lebanon War was the "secret, unapproved plan of the defense minister and chief of staff."

In July 1998, Ha'aretz asked the attorney general to investigate allegations that Ben Gal corroborated his testimony in exchange for business favors from Sharon. The complaint noted that shortly before his appearance at the trial, Ben Gal was part of a delegation led by Sharon, then serving as infrastructure minister, to explore the possibility of a large natural-gas deal in Russia.

The complaint noted that Ben Gal did not mention this relationship with Sharon at the trial.

Sharon's lawyer, Ya'acov Weinrot, dismissed the current investigation as a "blood libel" and said the allegations were "baseless."