Powerful head of US Senate Foreign Affairs panel charged with corruption

New York, Sep 23 (IANS): Robert Menendez, the powerful head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been charged by federal prosecutors with bribery and passing on sensitive information to Eqypt.

The charges against Menendez, a Democrat who represents New Jersey, and also his wife Nadine, were filed in federal court in New York on Friday by Federal Prosecutor Damian Williams, an appointee of President Joe Biden.

Menendez is not required to step down from the Senate but will be required to give up the committee chairmanship.

First elected to the Senate in 2006, he faces an election next year.

The politically charged case comes in the midst of other high-profile prosecutions, including Biden's son Hunter's case involving gun charges, and the numerous cases against former President Donald Trump.

This is the second prosecution of Menendez who was acquitted in another corruption case six years ago because the jury could not reach a verdict.

Damian said that "thousands of dollars of bribes, including cash, gold, a Mercedes Benz, and other things of value" were given "in exchange for Senator Menendez agreeing to use his power and influence to protect and enrich those businessmen and to benefit the government of Egypt".

The prosecutor's office said when the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided his house last year, they found "over $480,000 in cash - much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe", as well as gold bars worth $100,000.

Some of the envelopes contained the fingerprints of one of the three men who allegedly gave bribes or his driver, it said.

Menendez denied the allegations in a statement and blamed "forces" that have "repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave".

According to the prosecution, when Menendez, who had divorced his first wife began dating in 2018 his current wife Nadine Arslanian, who is herself a divorcee, and an alleged bribery "introduced him to Egyptian intelligence and military officials".

Although the information that went through was "not classified, it was deemed highly sensitive because it could pose significant operational security concerns if disclosed to a foreign government or made public", prosecutors said.

Another instance of alleged corruption involved the bizarre case of certifying meat from the US as halal for export to Egypt.

Prosecutors allege that Menendez interfered with the US Agriculture Department's opposition to the monopoly granted to a company connected to the bribers, and Egypt let the company keep its monopoly on certifying halal meat for export.

He is also charged with trying to influence the insurance fraud prosecution of an alleged briber by the New Jersey Attorney General.



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