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Israel Won’t Charge Sharon In a Campaign Finance Case

Israel’s attorney general announced Thursday that he would not file charges against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon after a long investigation into campaign financing, though Sharon’s son Omri was indicted in the case.

Sharon has been the subject of three long-running inquiries into possible corruption, and with Thursday’s decision, he has now been cleared in two of the investigations. The attorney general has not announced his findings in the third case.

The attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, “decided to close, due to insufficient evidence, the investigation as matters relate to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

An indictment against Sharon would have almost certainly driven him from office. The charges against Omri Sharon, 40, could prove an embarrassment and tarnish the family’s reputation. But Sharon has survived a number of investigations over the years, and there was no immediate indication that he would be weakened politically.

But Omri Sharon faces fraud, perjury and breach of trust charges linked to the 1999 financing of his father’s successful campaign to become leader of the Likud Party, the Justice Ministry said. Omri Sharon, who is now a Likud member of parliament, handled the finances for that campaign.

The main allegation is that at least one shell company, Annex Research, was established to handle campaign contributions from abroad, which are not permitted in Israel.

Ariel Sharon was a member of parliament at the time of the 1999 campaign, and became prime minister in 2001. He has previously denied wrongdoing.

Medical Marijuana ID Cards Coming for California Users

California will begin issuing identification cards to medical marijuana users in 10 counties this summer, part of a pilot program designed to protect certified users from arrest and pot seizures.

The voluntary ID card program, developed by the state Department of Health Services, will be expanded statewide by year’s end, said Norma Arceo, a spokeswoman for the department.

Law enforcement officials hailed the move, saying it will simplify a confusing patchwork of local policies and make it easier to distinguish between legal marijuana users and criminals.

“I think it’s good news for everybody,” said Mendocino County Sheriff Tony Craver, who helped start the first county medical marijuana program in California in 1999.

The state ID cards, required under a 2003 law, have been on hold because the Legislature hadn’t authorized funding to launch the program, Arceo said. Legislators approved $983,000 last year to implement the law, sponsored by former state Sen. John Vasconcellos.

Some counties already have local programs to identify medical marijuana users, and volunteered to participate in the pilot program, which is expected to be on line in late July, Arceo said.

The pilot program participants are Sonoma, Mendocino, Marin, Del Norte, Trinity, Shasta, Amador, Santa Cruz, Sacramento and Yuba counties.

The cards will make it easier for law enforcement officers to know whether people they find with marijuana possess it legally, Sonoma County Sheriff Bill Cogbill said. If they do, officers can simply walk away rather than investigate the case.

“I’m all for it,” he said.

Medical marijuana activists also were pleased.

“It’s a good step in the right direction,” said Dane Wilkins, director of the North Coast office of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which pushed for implementation of the law.

Justice Department Takes Tough Line on Tobacco

The Justice Department argued on Wednesday that tobacco companies should be held financially accountable somehow for the adverse consequences of smoking despite an appeals court ruling that the government cannot seize profits if it wins its civil racketeering case against the industry.

In papers filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, government lawyers said the companies should submit to remedies intended “to prevent and restrain” future unlawful conduct.

The proposed remedies include paying for programs to stop smoking, education programs operated by an independent organization and a long-term campaign to discourage young people from smoking. The lawyers also said the government might seek an injunction to stop tobacco companies from marketing their products to people younger than 21.

Each request was in the original complaint, along with an additional $280 billion that the government requested when the case began last September. The figure represented what the Justice Department said were the illegal profits from a 50-year conspiracy by the companies to deceive the public about the adverse health effects of smoking.

After a three-judge appeals court panel ruled on Feb. 4 that the government could not claim the money as a remedy under civil-racketeering statutes, Judge Gladys Kessler, who is presiding in the trial, instructed the government to submit a new request for remedies.

The largest defendant, Altria, which owns Philip Morris, said the government was still not properly interpreting the racketeering statutes, arguing that the remedies sought are “backward-looking and not the sort of equitable relief directed at preventing or restraining fraud in the future.” Altria also said the new approach to remedies ignored “fundamental and irreversible changes” that the companies had made in the last 10 years.