US Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, indicted for corruption | International

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US Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and his wife Nadine Arslanian Menendez were indicted this Friday on corruption charges. The couple is suspected of accepting cash bribes, mortgage payments, gold bars and a luxury car in exchange for a series of irregular acts, including using the lawmaker's influence as a member of the Foreign Relations committee in the Upper House to benefit the government of Egypt and three businessmen.

Menendez and his wife, whom he married in 2020, face three charges each: bribery conspiracy, conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official duties. Prosecutors have also charged the three businessmen allegedly involved: Wael Hana, José Uribes and Fred Daibes.

A search of the couple's private home found hidden almost half a million dollars -480,000- in cash, in addition to $100,000 in gold bars, according to prosecutors in the statement of charges. Menendez had announced in October of last year that the investigation against him had been opened.

The filing of charges against the senator now represents a serious blow against the Democratic Party just fourteen months before the elections in November next year. Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has been a strong supporter of President Joe Biden on issues ranging from the war in Ukraine to the rivalry with China. This formation then aspires to defend the slim majority it has in the Senate, just two seats, and the seat of its senior legislator in New Jersey and president of the Foreign Committee is fundamental in its plans. Menendez is one of the 33 senators - a third of the Upper House - whose term expires then and it is taken for granted that he will run for re-election.

The indictment has been presented after a long investigation that examined the businesses of Hana, a New Jersey-based businessman who is a friend of Arslanian, Menendez, who managed to get the Egyptian government to grant him exclusive permission to certify that meat from that country met the requirements of the Muslim religion for consumption. The investigation also investigated contacts between the couple and an industrial promoter in that neighboring state of New York.

According to the prosecution, Hana, of Egyptian origin, organized dinners and meetings between Menendez and officials from the Arab country in which representatives from Cairo pressured the senator about US military assistance to that nation. In exchange, investigators believe, the businessman included Arslanian on the payroll of his company.

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It is not the first time that the veteran legislator, son of Cuban immigrants, 69 years old and with a political career spanning more than three decades, has faced suspicions of corruption. Six years ago, he faced accusations that he accepted bribes in the form of handsome campaign contributions and lavish gifts - including a vacation to Paris and a private plane trip to the Dominican Republic - to lobby government officials for the benefit of an ophthalmologist. Florida, Solomon Melgen. Those suspicions ended in a dead end: the jury appointed in the case could not agree. Menendez has always maintained his innocence and that the gifts were the result of the long friendship between the two, not a bribe.

Although the case was eventually dismissed in 2018, the Senate Ethics Committee determined that the legislator had inappropriately accepted gifts, had not made those perks known to the chamber, and had used his influence to benefit his friend's personal interests.

Despite the reproach from the ethics arm of the Upper House, the senator stood for re-election in the 2018 legislative elections (the term of each senator lasts six years, and a third of the chamber is renewed every two years) and the voters confirmed in the position, in a race in which he faced an important Republican businessman.

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