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New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez’s corruption trial begins. Here’s what you need to know.

Washington – For the second time in his career, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez is in court on corruption charges. This time he is fighting accusations that he traded his political influence for cash, gold bars and a new Mercedes-Benz convertible.

The allegations date back to 2018, around the time the Democratic senator began dating the woman who is now his wife, Nadine Menendez, who was also charged in the corruption investigation. Prosecutors say Menendez provided political favors to three New Jersey businessmen and secretly aided the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

Menendez, who resigned his powerful chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after being indicted, has pleaded not guilty and has not ruled out a witness statement.

Recent lawsuits revealed Menendez’s potential defense strategies, including: accuse his wife and claim that stockpiling cash is a “coping mechanism“after “two major traumatic events” in his life.

Menendez will stand trial alongside two New Jersey businessmen who have also pleaded not guilty.

Here’s what you need to know.

What are Menendez and his wife accused of?

Menendez and his wife were initially charged with three counts in September 2023 – conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit racketeering under the color of official right.

The initial indictment detailed a years-long corruption scheme in which Menendez allegedly used his influence as then-chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee to secretly benefit Egypt; pressured a U.S. Department of Agriculture official to protect a business monopoly that Egypt had awarded to a New Jersey businessman, Wael Hana; interfering with a criminal investigation and prosecution by the New Jersey Attorney General’s office involving a second New Jersey businessman, Jose Uribe, and his associates; and tried to influence a federal prosecution of a third New Jersey businessman, Fred Daibes.

a charge replaced a fourth indictment was added in October 2023, alleging that the couple conspired to act as foreign agents for Egypt. Prosecutors say Menendez and his wife provided Egyptian officials, through Hana, with “highly sensitive” and non-public information about the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and U.S. military aid to Egypt. The senator is also said to have written a letter on behalf of Egypt in which he tried to convince his Senate colleagues to release $300 million in aid to Egypt.

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“If you need anything, you have my number and we will make sure everything happens,” Nadine Menendez allegedly texted an Egyptian intelligence official in March 2020, days before one of the many meetings between her husband and the official arranged.

In January, a second superseding indictment included allegations Menendez had made positive comments about the government of Qatar while Daibes was looking for a multi-million dollar investment from a company with ties to the government.

Menendez was indicted on a dozen new charges in March a third superseding indictment, bringing the total number of charges to 16. The additional charges include obstruction of justice, government official acting as a foreign agent, bribery, racketeering and honest services fraud. Nadine Menendez, whose trial was separated from her husband’s due to a “serious medical condition”, is facing 15 charges. She has also pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors allege that in exchange for the senator’s use of his power and influence to enrich the businessmen, they provided the Menendezes with lavish gifts, including cash, gold bars, a Mercedes-Benz convertible, furniture and mortgage payments, like Nadine Menendez was. facing foreclosure of her home.

When investigators executed a search warrant at the couple’s home in June 2022, they found more than $480,000 in cash, wrapped in envelopes and jackets, and 13 gold bars worth more than $100,000. They discovered nearly $80,000 in a safe at a nearby bank.

After the initial indictment, Menendez said he had withdrawn thousands of dollars from his personal savings account every month for 30 years in case of emergency. The “old-fashioned” custom, he said, had its roots in his family’s experiences in Cuba.

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Who are the other suspects?

Hana knew Nadine Menendez years before she started dating the senator. Originally from Egypt, Hana lived in New Jersey and operated IS EG Halal, a start-up that quickly became the only company to source halal products imported into Egypt, despite Hana having no previous experience in the halal industry.

Hana and Nadine Menendez often served as intermediaries between the senator and Egyptian officials, arranging dinners at expensive restaurants and meetings in his Senate office, court documents show. Prosecutors say Hana put Nadine Menendez on his company’s payroll “in a low-or-no-show job” after the senator promised to use his power to facilitate foreign military sales to Egypt.

When an accident left Nadine Menendez without a car in December 2018, she turned to Hana, who put her in touch with Uribe, his business partner involved in an insurance fraud case. The following month, the couple and the two businessmen agreed to have Menendez intervene in the insurance fraud case, the indictment said. In return, the charges allege, Uribe helped Nadine Menendez buy a black Mercedes-Benz convertible, met her in a restaurant parking lot to hand over $15,000 in cash that she used for the down payment, and later arranged for the car payments.

Around the same time, Egypt granted a monopoly to Hana’s firm in a deal that gave Hana a “revenue stream” to pay the Menendezes, the charges say. But the monopoly also raised costs for other U.S. meat suppliers, and after U.S. officials raised objections with Egypt, Hana asked the senator’s help to pressure the Agriculture Ministry to back down.

By the summer of 2019, prosecutors say Nadine Menendez, who was tens of thousands of dollars behind on her mortgage and facing foreclosure, again sought help from Hana and Uribe. Hana’s company, they say, paid $23,000 to bring mortgage payments up to date, while Menendez tried to pressure New Jersey officials to end the fraud investigation related to Uribe.

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It was not the first case Menendez was involved in, according to the charges. In late 2020, the senator met with an individual who would later be nominated as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, criticizing the office’s prosecution of Daibes, a New Jersey real estate developer and Hana associate. Daibes was accused in 2018 of obtaining loans under false pretenses. But when the person suggested he might have to withdraw from the prosecution, Menendez told him he would recommend someone else to the White House for the appointment of a U.S. attorney, prosecutors alleged.

In 2021 and 2022, after Menendez publicly praised the Qatari government, which prosecutors say helped Daibes close a deal with a Qatari investor, and as the senator tried to continue interfering with Daibes’ federal prosecution, the real estate developer Menendez have given gold bars, cash and an armchair.

“A kilo of gold price,” Menendez allegedly searched online, hours after having dinner with his wife and Daibes in May 2022.

Less than a month later, federal agents executed search warrants at the Menendezes’ home and safe.

Prosecutors say Uribe then stopped paying for Nadine Menendez’s Mercedes and told her he would say the payments were a loan if investigators asked. Menendez and his wife then tried to cover up the mortgage and car payments by writing checks to Hana and Uribe that were characterized as loan payments, prosecutors said. That caused attorneys for Menendez and his wife to make “false and misleading statements” to investigators in 2023, the complaint said.

Uribe pleaded guilty to seven charges, including conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services fraud, obstruction of justice and tax evasion, and agreed earlier this year to cooperate with investigators.

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