US Senator Bob Menendez charged in bribery inquiry

New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez has been indicted for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, according to the Justice Department.

Prosecutors say Mr Menendez and his wife, Nadine, accepted gold bars and cash from three New Jersey businessmen.

The senator and his wife accepted the money to “benefit the government of Egypt”, prosecutors claim.

The charges come after a years-long Justice Department investigation.

The pair each face three criminal counts: conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York is expected to hold a news conference at 11:00 EST (16:00 GMT) announcing the charges.

Prosecutors allege Mr Menendez and his wife accepted bribes including cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage and a luxury vehicle from three New Jersey men: Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes.

They did so in exchange for using Mr Menendez’s influence and power as a senator to protect the three businessmen and to “benefit the Arab Republic of Egypt”, according to the indictment.

Federal agents executed search warrants at Mr Menendez’s home and found evidence of the bribery agreements, including over $480,000 (£391,000) in cash, much of which was “stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets and a safe”, prosecutors allege.

Agents said they also found a luxury vehicle paid for by Mr Uribe parked in the garage, as well as $100,000 of gold bars in the home, pictures of which were included in the indictment.

The BBC has reached out to Mr Menendez’s office for comment.

Mr Menendez, 69, is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee and was elected to a third term in the Senate in 2018.

In the indictment, prosecutors allege Mr Menendez’s wife Nadine worked with one of the three New Jersey businessmen, Mr Hana, to introduce the senator to Egyptian intelligence and military officials. Mr Hana – who is originally from Egypt – exchanged thousands of text messages with Ms Menendez, which she deleted from her cell phone, according to prosecutors.

Mr Hana and Ms Menendez set up a “corrupt agreement” in which the New Jersey businessman provided money so that the senator would benefit the Egyptian government with foreign military sales and foreign military financing, the indictment alleges.

Mr Menendez “held a leadership position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (the “SFRC”), first as the Ranking Member and then the Chairman, and therefore possessed influence over, among other things, the Executive Branch’s decisions to provide foreign military sales, foreign military financing, and other aid or support to or for the benefit of the Government of Egypt”, prosecutors wrote in the 39-page indictment.

On one occasion, prosecutors say Mr Menendez secretly ghost-wrote a letter on behalf of the Egyptian government seeking to convince other US senators to release a hold on $300m in aid to Egypt.

In exchange for help to Egyptian officials, Mr Hana agreed to compensate Ms Menendez with a “low-or-no-show” job, according to prosecutors.

Mr Menendez is also accused of accepting a new Mercedes Benz convertible in exchange for impeding a New Jersey state criminal prosecution into one of Mr Uribe’s associates.

Prosecutors say the senator contacted a senior state prosecutor in the New Jersey Attorney General’s office and pressured the official to reach a “favorable” solution for the defendant.

Mr Menendez and his wife have been asked to forfeit several assets, including their New Jersey home and a 2019 Mercedes Benz.

This is not the first time Mr Menendez faces bribery charges. The senator, who has served in Congress since 2006, was indicted in New Jersey in 2015 over allegations he accepted bribes – including luxury vacations – from a wealthy Florida eye doctor. That case ended in a mistrial after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

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