The powerful Democratic senator of Cuban origin Bob Menéndez pleaded "not guilty" on Wednesday, September 27 before a judge in Manhattan to the charges of bribery, extortion and fraud of which the US prosecutor's office accuses him.
The senator from New Jersey, 69, and his wife Nadine Menéndez, also accused in the same case, arrived hand in hand at the Southern District Court in Manhattan in their first appearance before the judge after being indicted last Friday.
According to the prosecution, the Democratic senator agreed to use his official position to benefit businessmen Wael Hana, José Uribe and Fred Daibes - also accused in the case - and the government of Egypt in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars and expensive gifts.
At the New Jersey home of the couple, who married in October 2020, investigators found about $550,000 in cash hidden among clothing, safe deposit boxes and envelopes, as well as gold bars valued at more than $150,000 and a car. luxury Mercedes-Benz donated by one of the businessmen.
According to prosecutors' charges, Menéndez provided sensitive information to Egypt, including military information, and pressured several high-ranking officials in the Department of Agriculture to make decisions that would have benefited the monopoly that the Egyptian government granted to businessman Wael Hana.
Likewise, he would have tried to influence the New Jersey justice system to abandon criminal investigations against Uribe and Daibes.
The senator, who "temporarily" resigned from the presidency of the Senate Foreign Relations Commission from which he exerted influence on the country's foreign policy, denied having done anything illegal and refused to resign from his seat despite strong pressure. faces.
"I firmly believe that I will be exonerated," said the senator, reaffirming that he will not resign from office.
If convicted, the most serious charges can carry up to 20 years in prison.
The senator justified the amounts of money he kept at home by "the history of my family being a victim of confiscation in Cuba", which may be "old fashioned" but he assured that it is money that he took "from his savings account." product of "30 years of work."
On Monday, in his first public statement, he said the allegations are "serious" but "they are just allegations" and he expressed confidence that he will be acquitted. "I recognize the seriousness of this moment and that it will be my greatest battle to this day," he also said in Spanish,
This is the second corruption accusation in eight years against the veteran New Jersey politician, whose immediate future could jeopardize the Democratic Party's slim majority in the Senate.
A senator since 2006 and previously a member of the House of Representatives for 14 years, Menéndez has been a staunch Democrat in Congress for three decades.
As president of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has been a fierce opponent of the normalization of relations with Cuba, a staunch enemy of Venezuela and China, and defender of Israel.
SENATOR CARDIN WILL PRESIDE SENATE RREE COMMITTEE
- Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin will temporarily take over as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to officials with direct knowledge of the plans.
- Cardin, a Democrat who announced in May that he will not seek reelection in 2024, will replace New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who was indicted Friday on serious federal charges.
- An announcement is expected next week, according to officials who declined to be identified while the transition is underway.