Sat 23 Sep 2023 10:05 am - Jerusalem Time
Corruption charges oust one of Israel's staunchest supporters in US Senate
The New York Times revealed, on Friday, that federal corruption charges have been brought against US Senator Bob Menendez (Democrat from New Jersey), who is considered one of the staunchest supporters of Israel and the most influential in the Senate, for using his position in a wide range of “corrupt schemes at home and abroad.” It included suspicious dealings with the Egyptian government.
The newspaper said that the indictment consists of three main charges against Senator Menendez, Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, his wife, and three businessmen from New Jersey.
These accusations are preceded by Menendez’s attempt to secretly provide the Egyptian government with sensitive information about the American government.
Internally, the senator was accused of seeking to influence criminal investigations of two New Jersey businessmen.
Chuck Schumer, President of the Senate (Democrat from New York State), confirmed on Friday that Menendez had temporarily stepped down as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee following the accusations against him and his wife.
Schumer said in a statement that Menendez, who has given no indication that he will leave his Senate seat, has the right to due process and a fair trial. He added that Menendez would step down "until a solution is reached."
The indictment says Menendez used his position to attempt to disrupt the investigation and prosecution of a businessman by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office.
The indictment also stated that in exchange for this (obstructing the investigation), the senator and his wife, Nadine Menendez, of Lebanese origin, accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, including cash, gold bullion, mortgage payments, a luxury car, and other valuables.
This is the second time that Menendez has been prosecuted on corruption charges, but the first time the jury was unable to agree, forcing the judge to declare the case dismissed, which does not mean acquittal.
In turn, Menendez's lawyer, Schertler, said that the senator denies any criminal behavior and will vigorously challenge these accusations in court.
The New York Times said it was not able to contact representatives of the senator and the three businessmen to comment on these accusations.
The charges against Menendez, 69, follow a lengthy investigation conducted by the FBI and federal prosecutors in Manhattan.
It also comes nearly six years after the end of his trial on unrelated corruption charges.
The businessmen named in the indictment, which was unsealed in Manhattan federal court, are Fred Daibes (of Lebanese origin), a prominent New Jersey real estate developer and fundraiser for Menendez; Wael Hanna (also of Lebanese descent), an old friend of Menendez's wife, who founded a halal meat certification company, and José Uribe, who works in trucking and insurance.
Menendez was reportedly under federal scrutiny, and he said he was willing to help investigators and was confident the matter would be "closed."
The 39-page indictment accuses the senator, his wife, and businessmen of conspiring to receive bribes and conspiring to commit fraud.
Menendez and his wife are also accused of conspiring to commit "acts of extortion by using his position to force someone to give them something of value."
The senator's follow-up may affect his efforts to maintain his position during the upcoming elections.
Menendez already faces at least one Democratic challenger in his scheduled run for re-election to a fourth term in the Senate.
If Menendez resigns before the end of his term, New Jersey's Democratic governor, Philip D. Murphy, will be responsible for appointing his successor, according to the newspaper.
Damian Williams, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and James Smith, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in New York, are scheduled to announce the charges at a press conference later, Friday.
Menendez, his wife, and the three other defendants are expected to appear in Manhattan federal court next Wednesday, according to what the New York Times quoted Nicholas Biasi, spokesman for the Southern District, as saying.
This is not the first time this senator has faced the courts. In 2015, Menendez was accused of receiving bribes in what federal prosecutors described as a scheme between the senator and a wealthy eye doctor to barter political favors for gifts worth nearly $1 million, including luxury vacations in... Caribbean and electoral campaign contributions.
Menendez's corruption trial ended in November 2017, after the jury said it was unable to reach a verdict.
The judge later acquitted Menendez of several charges, while the Justice Department dropped the other charges.
As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez is one of the most influential Democrats in Washington.
Menendez, born to immigrant parents from Cuba, served in the state House of Representatives and Senate before being elected to the US House of Representatives.