Shmuel Flatto-Sharon, MK who entered politics to escape prosecution, dies at 88

Colorful businessman was best known for successful 1977 one-man bid to become lawmaker in order to gain parliamentary immunity and avoid extradition to France

Shmuel Flatto-Sharon at a rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on August 9, 2017.  (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Shmuel Flatto-Sharon at a rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on August 9, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Shmuel Flatto-Sharon, a former businessman who fled to Israel and joined the Knesset to escape a French jail sentence, died early Friday morning. He was 88.

Flatto-Sharon had been hospitalized near Tel Aviv since September with an infection, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

Born in Poland in 1930, Flatto-Sharon escaped the Holocaust and eventually became a successful industrialist. In 1975, he moved to Israel, apparently to escape French authorities who suspected him of embezzling tens of millions of dollars.

In 1977, with France attempting to have him extradited to serve a jail sentence, Flatto-Sharon started a one-man political party and managed to win a spot in the Knesset, gaining parliamentary immunity.

The affair, for which he became famous, is sometimes cited as a reason for higher electoral thresholds in the Knesset. He was unable to enter the Knesset in subsequent tries and was later convicted for buying votes during the 1977 election and sentenced to prison.

Shmuel Flatto-Sharon in his office on January 23, 2013. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

After leaving politics, Flatto-Sharon continued as a successful businessman and philanthropist in Israel, though legal woes dogged him throughout.

In 1986, he was captured in Italy at the request of France, but managed to make it back to Israel and avoid prosecution, according to the Ynet news website.

In 1992 he asked a court in Tel Aviv to declare him penniless, apparently to escape a $35 million judgement awarded the French Companie Parisienne de Participation, which sued him in Israel.

At the time, he still occupied a luxurious villa in the upscale Savyon suburb of Tel Aviv, reportedly registered in his wife’s name, according to JTA. He later settled on a smaller amount with the company.

In 2000, he served several months in an Israeli prison for a French graft conviction, according to Ynet.

His funeral is scheduled for Friday afternoon in Savyon. He is survived by his wife Clara and his children Hilda and Yoav.

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