US Senator Menendez charged with bribery, prosecutors say
PHOTO CAPTION: Representational photo of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) by Evelyn Hockstein via Reuters
By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) -U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, and his wife have been charged with bribery offenses in connection with their relationship with three New Jersey businessmen, federal prosecutors said on Friday.
The U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan accused the defendants of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for using Menendez's power and influence as a senator to seek to protect and enrich the businessmen, and benefit the government of Egypt.
Prosecutors said the bribes included cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a job with minimal requirements, a luxury vehicle and other things of value.
Menendez, the chair of the influential U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and his wife Nadine Menendez, who has been married to the senator since 2020, face three criminal counts each.
The senator's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Menendez is up for re-election next year, and an investigation could complicate Democrats' effort to expand their slim 51-49 seat majority in the 100-member Senate.
Menendez and his wife face three criminal counts each: conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.
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.
The businessmen - Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes - were also charged in the scheme.
Prosecutors said Hana, who is originally from Egypt, arranged dinners and meetings between Menendez and Egyptian officials in 2018 at which the officials pressed Menendez on the status of U.S. military aid. In exchange, Hana put Nadine Menendez on his company's payroll, prosecutors said.
Egypt at the time was one of the largest recipients of U.S. military aid, but the State Department had withheld $195 million in 2017 and canceled an additional $65.7 million until the country could demonstrate improvements on human rights and democracy.
Menendez at a meeting in 2018 told Hana non-public information about the status of the aid, prosecutors said. Hana then texted an Egyptian official, "The ban on small arms and ammunition to Egypt has been lifted," according to an indictment made public on Friday.
Prosecutors said Egypt’s government in 2019 granted one of Hana’s companies an exclusive license to export halal food from the United States to Egypt, despite lacking experience in halal certification. Hana used the proceeds from those exports to fund the bribe payments, according to the indictment.
The Egyptian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, was set to address the charges at an 11 a.m. EDT (1356 GMT) press conference.
Menendez had previously been charged in New Jersey with accepting private flights, campaign contributions and other bribes from a wealthy patron in exchange for official favors, but a 2017 trial ended in a jury deadlock.
Prosecutors dropped their bribery case in 2018 and Menendez had maintained his innocence.
He was re-elected later that year to his third term in the Senate, which he first joined in 2006.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Simon Lewis in Washington; Writing by Tom Hals and editing by Mark Porter)