Senator Menendez Concerned
Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee POOL via AFP / BONNIE CASH/BONNIE CASH

Sen. Robert "Bob" Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the most high-ranking Latino politicians in the US, has been charged by prosecutors in New York with accepting bribes in exchange for influence on behalf of a foreign government and companies in New Jersey, the state he represents in the US Congress. The charges were brought by Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and James Smith, the assistant director in charge of the New York field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Menendez, a political heavyweight in Washington, had previously faced similar charges related to foreign trips, but had escaped such charges.

In that case, Menendez was accused of paying $58,500 for two trips he took to the Dominican Republic in August and September 2010 at the invitation of his friend and campaign donor, ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, in search of underage ladies.

This time the scandal is much more serious, because in addition to the sex ingredient, it includes corrupt relationships with military and intelligence officers to deliver information to a foreign government. Those accused include his wife, Nadine Menendez, and her friends, Wael Hana and José Uribe.

"Menendez, for his part, adamantly denies the charges and strikes back, saying, "The excesses of these prosecutors are obvious. "They have misrepresented the normal work of a congressional office. Moreover, not content with making false accusations against me, they have attacked my wife because of long-standing friendships she had before she and I met."

Mrs. Menendez denies any criminal conduct and will vigorously contest these allegations in court," said an attorney for the Senator's wife.

According to prosecutors, "Nadine Menendez, alias "Nadine Arslanian" began dating Menendez in February 2018, they became engaged in October 2019, and they married in October 2020. Shortly after they began dating in 2018, Nadine introduced Menendez to her longtime friend Wael, who was originally from Egypt, lived in New Jersey, and had close ties to Egyptian officials. Hana was also a business associate of Fred Daibes, a New Jersey real estate developer and longtime Menendez donor, and Jose Uribe, who worked in the New Jersey insurance and trucking business."

Investigators found $100,000 in cash during a search of Menendez's home. They also found $500,000 worth of gold bars and a Mercedes Benz luxury car.

These were the gifts the senator received in exchange for influencing the halls of Congress in favor of the African country.

"At various times between 2018 and 2022, Menendez also communicated to Egyptian officials through Nadine Menendez, Hana, and Daibes that he would approve, or lift holds on foreign military financing and military equipment sales to Egypt in connection with his leadership role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee," prosecutors said.

But beyond the criminal consequences, the political ones are beginning to be felt as the senator "temporarily" steps aside from his position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would step down from the chairmanship "until his situation is resolved.

The departure of Menendez is a hard blow for the Democratic Party, which loses one of its most influential cards in Congress for the consolidation of its international policy strategy.

The outbreak of the scandal coincides with the visit of Ukrainian leader Volomydyr Zelensky to the U.S. capital. It also comes at a time when President Joe Biden is seeking support in Congress for approving more aid to the Ukrainian government for its war against Russia.

Furthermore, it comes in the context of another major issue with similar characteristics involving President Biden. It is the recent call for inquiries over allegations that President Biden's son, Hunter Biden, other members of his family, and the President himself received bribes from foreign governments such as those of Ukraine and Russia.

Although the Democrats deny the allegations, the Menendez case complicates the party's situation as the campaign for the 2024 elections heats up.

Prosecutors said his friend Hana introduced Egyptian intelligence and military officials to set up a corrupt arrangement in which Hana, aided by Daibes and Uribe, provided bribes to Menendez and his wife in exchange for actions benefiting Egypt.

The New Jersey Senator is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment; one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment; and one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering under color of official right, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment.

Menendez has been a champion of numerous causes that benefit his state's Latino communities, such as the Colombian and Peruvian communities that populate key Democratic enclaves like Paterson and Elizabeth. A 69-year-old of Cuban descent, Menendez has been on Capitol Hill since 1993 and has been a fierce fighter who has not been without controversy throughout his long career. "For years, behind-the-scenes players have tried to silence me and bury me politically," he denounced in a press release. "It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to condemn a Latino and push him out of his seat. I am not going anywhere," he said.

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