A federal grand jury indictment has charged US Senator Robert Menendez with bribery and corruption charges connecting the Democratic leader of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee and his wife to several alleged schemes with New Jersey businessmen.
The indictment unsealed in US District Court in Manhattan on 22 September also names the senator’s wife, Nadine Menendez, New Jersey real estate developer Fred Daibes, and associates Wael Hana and Jose Uribe.
Prosecutors allege the couple enjoyed a “corrupt relationship” with their New Jersey associates to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from at least 2018 up until about 2022 in exchange for a wide range of alleged schemes, including secretly providing sensitive government information to Egypt and influencing criminal investigations.
Authorities have seized $100,000 worth of gold bars and more than $480,000 in cash, mostly stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe at their home and bank, according to the indictment.
During the same court-authorised search of their home, federal agents also discovered home furnishings allegedly provided by Mr Hana and Mr Daibes and a “luxury vehicle” paid for by Mr Uribe parked in the garage, according to the indictment.
The indictment alleges that Ms Menendez and Mr Hana sought to introduce Egyptian intelligence and military officials to the senator for the purpose of “establishing and solidifying a corrupt agreement” with help from Mr Daibes and Mr Uribe using thousands of dollars in bribes, in exchange for Mr Menendez’s breaches of duty to benefit the government of Egypt – including financial support for its military.
Senator Menendez and his wife are charged with three counts, including conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.
Mr Daibes, Mr Hana and Mr Uribe are charged with the first two of those counts.
The indictment follows a lengthy investigation roughly six years after a trial on separate corruption claims resulted in a hung jury.
While the senator’s website explicitly states that he cannot interfere with investigations or otherwise improperly wield his influence as a powerful elected official, “we allege that behind the scenes, Senator Menendez was doing those things for certain people – the people bribing him and his wife,” US Attorney Damian Williams with the Southern District of New York said during a press conference to announce the charges.
In a statement following an announcement from prosecutors, Mr Menendez said he “will not be distracted by baseless allegations.”
“They wrote these charges as they wanted; the facts are not as presented. Prosecutors did that the last time and look what a trial demonstrates. People should remember that before accepting the prosecutor’s version,” he added. “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.”
Within the time period of the alleged scheme, the US provided roughly $1bn per year towards Egypt’s military through grants and in the form of direct sales of military equipment, sales under which the White House is required to notify Congress, according to the indictment.
The US Department of State typically would hold off on transferring such financing until signed off by the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – which Mr Menendez has steered and thus “possessed substantial influence over foreign military sales and foreign military financing to Egypt,” according to prosecutors.
In the years prior to the alleged scheme, State Department officials and members of Congress raised significant concerns surrounding human rights and antidemocratic threats in Egypt, prompting the cancellation of tens of millions of dollars in military aid, “and no foreign military sales of offensive military equipment to Egypt requiring congressional notification had been concluded since in or about March 2016,” the indictment notes.
Under the alleged agreement, the senator reportedly “improperly advised and pressured” a US agricultural official to maintain a contract for Mr Hana as the exclusive purveyor of halal meat to Egypt, according to the indictment.
Mr Menendez also sought to interfere with a criminal investigation connected to Mr Uribe’s trucking business facing scrutiny from New Jersey prosecutors, the indictment alleges.
Mr Uribe then arranged the sale of a Mercedes-Benz convertible after handing her $15,000 in cash in a parking lot, according to the indictment. She then allegedly used $15,000 for a down payment and lied on an application to secure loan financing. Mr Uribe later arranged monthly financing payments routed through his associates or a company he controlled, the indictment alleges.
In the case of Mr Daibes, the senator allegedly agreed to interfere with a pending federal case involving his co-defendant in exchange for cash, furniture and gold bars – as well as recommending the presidential nomination of a candidate for US Attorney in New Jersey that the senator believed he could influence.
At one point, after returning from Egypt, the senator allegedly performed an internet search for “how much is one kilo of gold worth”, according to the indictment.
Mr Menendez, who was first appointed and then elected to the US Senate in 2006, has chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2013 to 2015 and again since 2021, with Democratic control of the upper chamber of Congress.
He is seeking a fourth term in the Senate. If he were to step down following the indictment, New Jersey’s Democratic Governor Phil Murphy would appoint a successor to fill in the remainder of his term.
Primary elections are scheduled for 4 June 2024.
“It’s time for Senator Menendez to resign,” former prosecutor and president of government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “The conduct outlined in today’s indictment and the evidence presented are even more damning. The people of New Jersey should not have to be constantly questioning whether one of their senators is taking action for them or to line his pockets.”