The US senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, and his wife have been charged with bribery offenses in connection with accepting gold bars, cash and a Mercedes-Benz, among other gifts, in exchange for protecting three businessmen and influencing the government of Egypt.
FBI special agents discovered “a lot of gold” provided by Fred Daibes – a builder, and one of the three businessmen – during a search of the Menendez couple’s home in New Jersey, according to Damian Williams, US attorney for the southern district of New York.
In a press conference on Friday, he said agents discovered approximately $500,000 of cash “stuffed into envelopes and closets”, some of which was “stuffed in the senator’s jacket pockets”.
The FBI also found the Mercedes-Benz car that Jose Uribe, another of the three businessmen and a former insurance agent, had provided the couple, he said.
“We are not done,” said Williams. “And I want to encourage anyone with information to come forward and to come forward quickly.”
Menendez, who has been in the Senate since 2006, and his wife face three criminal counts each, including: conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right. The senator’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Menendez, the chair of the US Senate committee on foreign relations, 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.
The federal government now seeks the forfeiture of assets including the Menendezes’ New Jersey home, a 2019 Mercedez-Benz vehicle, about $566,000 in cash, gold bars and funds from a bank account.
The businessmen in the case – Wael Hana, Uribe and 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 US military aid. In exchange, Hana put Nadine Menendez on his company’s payroll, prosecutors said.
The New Jersey senator is also alleged to have “improperly pressured” a senior official at the Department of Agriculture to “protect a lucrative monopoly that the government of Egypt had awarded to [Wael] Hana” and that Hana used to “fund certain bribe payments”, Williams said.
The indictment also alleges that Menendez used his power and influence to try to disrupt a criminal investigation and prosecution undertaken by the New Jersey attorney general’s office related to “an associate and relative of [Jose] Uribe”.
Egypt at the time was one of the largest recipients of US military aid, but the state department had withheld $195m in 2017 and canceled an additional $65.7m 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.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed reporting
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