US Senator Menendez hit with bribery charges over Egypt ties
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON -U.S. prosecutors on Friday charged powerful Senator Bob Menendez and his wife with taking bribes from three New Jersey businessmen, which could complicate Democrats’ efforts to keep their slim majority in the U.S. Senate in next year’s elections.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan said Menendez, 69, accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cash and gold bars in exchange for using his power and influence as New Jersey’s senior senator to benefit the government of Egypt and interfere with law enforcement probes into the businessmen.
Menendez, the chair of the influential U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, has been an important ally to fellow Democrat Joe Biden as the president has sought to reassert U.S. influence on the world stage, rally support for congressional aid to Ukraine and push back against a rising China.
Senate Democratic rules require any member charged with a felony to give up their leadership position, although they can resume their position if found not guilty. Menendez stepped down from his position on the foreign relations committee during a previous corruption probe prosecutors ultimately dropped.
Aides to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The indictment contained an image of gold bars investigators seized from Menendez’s home as well as envelopes stuffed with cash found inside jackets bearing Menendez’s name hanging in his closet. Prosecutors said they found more than $480,000 in cash in his home.
Prosecutors are seeking to have Menendez forfeit assets including his New Jersey home, a 2019 Mercedes-Benz, and about $566,000 in cash, gold bars and funds from a bank account.
“This investigation is very much ongoing,” Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for Manhattan, said at a press conference. “We are not done. And I want to encourage anyone with information to come forward and to come forward quickly.”
Menendez in a statement said prosecutors mischaracterized routine legislative work.
“The excesses of these prosecutors is apparent,” Menendez said. “The facts are not as presented.”
A lawyer for Nadine Menendez, who has been married to the senator since 2020, said she denied wrongdoing and would “vigorously defend” against the allegations in court.
The investigation marks the third time Menendez has been investigated by federal prosecutors, but he has never been convicted.
Menendez has said he plans to seek re-election next year, and an investigation could complicate Democrats’ effort to expand their slim 51-49 seat majority in the 100-member Senate.
BUSINESSMEN ALSO CHARGED
The senator, his wife and the businessmen – Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes – are all expected to appear in Manhattan federal court on Sept. 27 to face charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.
Bob and Nadine Menendez, 56, also each face one count of conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.
According to the indictment, Hana – who is originally from Egypt – arranged meetings in 2018 between the senator and Egyptian officials, in which officials pressed Menendez to sign off on military aid Washington had withheld over concerns about the country’s human rights record.
In exchange, Hana, 40, put Nadine Menendez on the payroll of a company he controlled that had the exclusive right to certify halal meat shipped from the United States to Egypt, prosecutors said.
Menendez later sought to persuade the U.S. Department of Agriculture to not take any action to interfere with the company’s monopoly status, according to the indictment.
“We are still reviewing the charges but based upon our initial review, they have absolutely no merit,” a spokesperson for Hana said in a statement.
The Egyptian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prosecutors said Uribe, who worked in the trucking and insurance businesses, gave Nadine Menendez $15,000 in cash to help pay for a Mercedez-Benz convertible after her husband asked an official at the New Jersey attorney general’s office to resolve fraud investigations into Uribe’s associates favorably.
Daibes, a real estate developer in New Jersey, gave Menendez gold bars and cash after Menendez sought to influence a federal criminal case in New Jersey against Daibes for obtaining loans under false pretenses, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said. Daibes pleaded guilty and received a probationary sentence.
Lawyers for Uribe and Daibes did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The conduct described in Friday’s indictment began just months after federal prosecutors in New Jersey dropped a case in January 2018 in which Menendez was charged with accepting private flights, campaign contributions and other bribes from a wealthy patron in exchange for official favors. A 2017 trial on those charges ended in a jury deadlock.
Menendez was also investigated in 2006.
A Cuban American, Menendez was first appointed to the chamber in 2006 to replace Jon Corzine, who resigned when he was elected New Jersey’s governor.
The state has not elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972, when Clifford Case was re-elected.
Menendez, who was re-elected in 2018 to his third term, has been the toughest opponent among Biden’s own Democrats of any move by the administration to soften policies toward Cuba and Venezuela.
He has also been one of the Senate’s most vocal critics of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, especially resistant to major weapons deals for the kingdom. Biden’s aides have seen Menendez as among the key lawmakers they would have to convince to support their negotiations toward a mega-deal that could involve Israel-Saudi normalization of relations.