US Senator Menendez says he can explain gold bars, cash seized by FBI

WASHINGTON – United States Senator Bob Menendez says he has an innocent explanation for the 13 gold bars and nearly US$500,000 (S$665,667) in cash that FBI agents seized from his house. 

Lawyers for the New Jersey Democrat sought to have the bribery case against him thrown out on Jan 10, saying the cash reflected “decades of documented withdrawals by the senator from his own bank account”. They said in a court filing that the gold bars would “be shown to be entirely unrelated to any actions” by Mr Menendez but did not elaborate.

The filing in Manhattan federal court followed a 19-minute speech that Mr Menendez, 70, gave on Jan 9 on the floor of the Senate, proclaiming his innocence and decrying prosecutors.

“There is no evidence of the giving or receiving of cash and gold bars,” he said in a chamber where he’s lost the support of a majority of Democrats. “There will be at trial a full explanation of what is the truth about those issues, a truth that proves I am entirely innocent of the charges.”

Mr Menendez and his wife Nadine were charged in September 2023 by federal prosecutors who said he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gold bars and a Mercedes convertible from three New Jersey businessmen in return for political favours. The senator has also been accused of scheming to help the Egyptian and Qatari governments from his perch as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Menendezes and the businessmen – Fred Daibes, Jose Uribe and Wael Hana – have all pleaded not guilty.

In the filing on Jan 10, Mr Menendez’s lawyers said prosecutors failed to show he took any official action in exchange for corrupt payments, as required by law. They also say that many of the actions described by prosecutors as corrupt were protected by the US Constitution’s “Speech or Debate” clause.

Prosecutors claim Mr Menendez made “multiple public statements” supporting the government of Qatar to help Fred Daibes, a real estate developer who was seeking an investment from one of the Gulf state’s sovereign wealth funds. Mr Menendez also allegedly sought to intervene to resolve a 2018 indictment against Mr Daibes.

According to the government, Mr Menendez also tried to interfere in two New Jersey criminal matters to benefit Mr Jose Uribe and pressured the US Department of Agriculture official to protect the exclusive authority Egypt gave Hana to certify US food exports to the Arab country as halal. 

Mr Menendez has stepped down as foreign relations chairman but has not yet said whether seek reelection this year. Mrs Tammy Snyder Murphy, wife of Governor Phil Murphy, and US Representative Andy Kim have both said they will run in the Democratic primary for his seat. BLOOMBERG

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