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US Senator Bob Menendez and wife charged in bribery inquiry

Alex Harsha
Alex HarshaSep 23, 2023, 4:51 AM
US Senator Bob Menendez and wife charged in bribery inquiry

New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez has been indicted for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, according to the Justice Department.

Prosecutors say Mr Menendez and his wife accepted gold bars and envelopes of cash from New Jersey businessmen.

The senator and his wife accepted the money to secretly aid the Egyptian government, prosecutors allege.

Both Mr and Ms Menendez have vehemently denied the charges.

The pair each face three criminal counts: conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.

The indictment comes after a years-long Justice Department investigation.

Prosecutors allege Mr Menendez and his wife Nadine accepted bribes of cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage and a luxury vehicle from three New Jersey men: Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes.

In addition to helping the Egyptian government, they also took the bribes to use Mr Menendez’s power as a senator to protect the three businessmen, according to the indictment.

Mr Menendez, 69, is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee and was elected to a third term in the Senate in 2018.

His “leadership position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (the “SFRC”), first as the Ranking Member and then the Chairman” allowed him to peddle influence in these areas, the 39-page indictment says.

In a statement from her lawyers, Mrs Menendez denied any wrongdoing and said she will defend herself in court.

Mr Menendez also denied the allegations and painted them as politically motivated.

“For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave,” he said in a lengthy statement. “Since this investigation was leaked nearly a year ago, there has been an active smear campaign of anonymous sources and innuendos to create an air of impropriety where none exists.”

“I am confident that this matter will be successfully resolved once all of the facts are presented and my fellow New Jerseyans will see this for what it is,” he added.

In the summer of 2022, federal agents executed search warrants at Mr Menendez’s home and found evidence of the bribery agreements, including over $480,000 (£391,000) in cash, much of which was “stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets and a safe”, prosecutors allege.

Agents said they also found a Mercedes-Benz luxury vehicle paid for by Mr Uribe parked in the garage, as well as $100,000 of gold bars in the home, pictures of which were included in the indictment.

Speaking at a news conference on Friday, prosecutors quoted from Mr Menendez’s website, in which he details the limits of his power as a legislator, including not being able to intervene in criminal cases.

“Behind the scenes, Senator Menendez was doing those things for certain people – the people who were bribing him in his wife,” said Damian Williams, the US Attorney for Southern District of New York.

In the indictment, prosecutors allege Mr Menendez’s wife worked with one of the three New Jersey businessmen, Mr Hana, to introduce the senator to Egyptian intelligence and military officials. Mr Hana – who is originally from Egypt – exchanged thousands of text messages with Mrs Menendez, which she deleted from her cell phone, according to prosecutors.

Mr Hana and Mrs Menendez set up a “corrupt agreement” in which the New Jersey businessman provided money so that the senator would benefit the Egyptian government with foreign military sales and foreign military financing, the indictment alleges.

On one occasion, prosecutors say Mr Menendez secretly ghost-wrote a letter on behalf of the Egyptian government seeking to convince other US senators to release a hold on $300m in aid to Egypt.

In exchange for help to Egyptian officials, Mr Hana agreed to compensate Mrs Menendez with a “low-or-no-show” job, according to prosecutors.

Mr Menendez is also accused of accepting the Mercedes Benz convertible in exchange for impeding a New Jersey state criminal prosecution into one of Mr Uribe’s associates.

As a result of the charges, Mr Menendez and his wife have been asked to forfeit several assets, including their New Jersey home.

The BBC has reached out to businesses owned by Mr Hana and Mr Daibes for comment. The Embassy of Egypt in Washington DC did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr Menendez, his wife and their three co-defendants are scheduled to appear in Manhattan federal court on 27 September.

This is not the first time Mr Menendez faces bribery charges. The senator, who has served in Congress since 2006, was indicted in New Jersey in 2015 over allegations he accepted bribes – including luxury vacations – from a wealthy Florida eye doctor.

That case ended in a mistrial after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

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    Alex Harsha
    Alex Harsha

    Alex Harsha is a full-time writer.Before becoming a full-time writer, Alex was a public school teacher. He teaches writing workshops to children and adults. Lives in Connecticut & Works on next novel.

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