US Senator, wife indicted on bribe charges
NEW YORK (AP) — US Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey and his wife were indicted Friday on charges that they took bribes of cash, gold bars and a luxury car for a range of corrupt acts, including having the Democrat use his influence over foreign affairs to benefit the authoritarian government of Egypt.
A search of the couple's home turned up $100,000 in gold bars and $480,000 in hidden cash, said prosecutors, who announced the charges against the 69-year-old Democrat nearly six years after an earlier criminal case against him ended with a deadlocked jury.
The latest indictment is unrelated to the earlier charges that alleged Menendez accepted lavish gifts to pressure government officials on behalf of a Florida doctor.
A lawyer for Menendez's wife didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment. Messages were left for Menendez's Senate spokesperson and his political consultant.
The Senate Historical Office says Menendez appears to be the first sitting senator in US history to have been indicted on two unrelated criminal allegations. Menendez faces re-election next year in a bid to extend his three-decade career in Washington as Democrats hold a narrow majority in the Senate.
The indictment alleges that Menendez provided sensitive US government information and took other steps to secretly help Egypt, including ghost-writing a letter on behalf of Egypt pushing other senators to lift a hold on $300 million in aid to the country.
In April 2020, shortly after meeting with an Egyptian official, authorities allege, Menendez also lobbied then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to increase American engagement in stalled negotiations involving Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to build a dam over the Nile River, a key foreign policy issue for Egypt.
Prosecutors allege Menendez and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from three business associates, Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes. He also used his influence to pressure the president to nominate a US attorney for New Jersey who would protect Daibes, a longtime friend and prominent New Jersey developer who faced criminal prosecution, they said.
After Menendez called a government official about Daibes' case, according to the indictment, his wife was given a Mercedes-Benz convertible by Uribe and Hana, both friends of the senator and his wife.
The indictment says that after the purchase was complete, Nadine Menendez texted her husband to say: "Congratulations mon amour de la vie, we are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes," with a heart emoji.
Now that he is indicted, Menendez will have to step down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Rules for the Senate Democratic caucus say that any member who is charged with a felony must step aside from a leadership position.
Menendez had to step down from his position as the top Democrat on the panel when he was indicted in 2015. He resumed the post in 2018 when he was cleared of the charges.
The first time Menendez was indicted, he had been accused of using his political influence to help a Florida eye doctor who had lavished him with gifts and campaign contributions.
The new charges follow a yearslong investigation that examined, among other things, the dealings of a New Jersey businessman — a friend of Menendez's wife — who secured sole authorisation from the Egyptian government to certify that meat imported into that country meets Islamic dietary requirements.
Investigators also asked questions about the Menendez family's interactions with a New Jersey developer.
Menendez's political career had looked as though it might be over in 2015, when a federal grand jury in New Jersey indicted him on multiple charges over favour's he did for a friend, Dr. Salomon Melgen.
Menendez was accused of pressuring government officials to resolve a Medicare billing dispute in Melgen's favour, securing visas for the doctor's girlfriends and helping protect a contract the doctor had to provide port-screening equipment to the Dominican Republic.
Menendez has always maintained his innocence. His lawyers said campaign contributions and gifts from Melgen — which included trips on his private jet to a resort in the Dominican Republic and a vacation in Paris — were tokens of their longtime friendship, not bribes.
Prosecutors dropped the case after a jury deadlocked in November 2017 on charges including bribery, fraud and conspiracy, and a judge dismissed some counts.
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