US Senator Bob Menendez to appear in court as ‘Eva Kaili’-style scandal escalates
US Senator Bob Menendez is set to appear in court on Wednesday (27 September) to face charges of taking bribes from three New Jersey businessmen, as calls for his resignation from his fellow Democrats escalated.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan last week accused Menendez, 69, and his wife of accepting gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in exchange for the senator using his influence to aid Egypt’s government and interfere with law enforcement probes of the businessmen.
To Europeans, the scandal reminds ‘Qatargate’, the scandal in which big amounts of cash were found in the home of MEP Eva Kaili, suspected to be part of a lobbying ring of EU lawmakers paid by the secret services of Qatar and Morocco.
Prosecutors are seeking to have Menendez forfeit assets including his New Jersey home, a 2019 Mercedes-Benz convertible, and about $566,000 in cash, gold bars and funds from a bank account.
The indictment contained an image of gold bars investigators seized from Menendez’s home as well as envelopes stuffed with cash found inside jackets bearing Menendez’s name hanging in his closet. Prosecutors said they found more than $480,000 in cash in his home.
Menendez, his wife Nadine Menendez, 56, and businessmen Jose Uribe, 56, and Fred Daibes, 66, are set to appear in Manhattan federal court around 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT). A third businessman, Wael Hana, 40, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.
David Schertler, a lawyer for Nadine Menendez, said she intends to plead not guilty and “vigorously defend” against the allegations. Lawyers for Bob Menendez, Uribe and Daibes did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
When Nadine Menendez, the senator’s wife which he married in 2020, was his girlfriend and had the family name Arslanian, she was seen beside him when he met with Egyptian officials to discuss sensitive topics including sales of US military equipment.
In May 2018 Menendez sought sensitive information from the US State Department regarding personnel at the US Embassy in Cairo, and texted it to Arslanian. She then forwarded it to Egyptian officials, according to the indictment.
Arslanian, a registered Republican, according to voting records, is accused of setting up a company called Strategic International Business Consultants with Menendez’s help to receive bribery payments.
She would tell an unidentified relative, according to the indictment: “Every time I’m a middle person for a deal, I am asking to get paid and this is my consulting company.”
Bob Menendez, a senior Democrat senator who represents New Jersey, stepped down from his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as required under his party’s rule. But on Monday he said that he would stay in the Senate and fight the charges.
More than one-third of all US Democratic Senators, including Cory Booker who also hails from New Jersey, have called on Menendez – a powerful voice on foreign policy who has at times bucked his own party – to resign since the charges were unveiled on Friday.
Democrats narrowly control the chamber with 51 seats, including three independents who normally vote with them, to the Republican’s 49. Democratic New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who would appoint a temporary replacement should Menendez step aside, has also called for him to resign.
The probe marks the third time Menendez has been under investigation by federal prosecutors. He has never been convicted.
In the EU, the activity of Menedez was in the spotlight when in January 2022 he introduced legislation aimed at watering down sanctions against Nord Stream 2, under the pretext not to harm the good relations with the government in Berlin, who was still supporting the pipeline at that time.
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More recently, Menendez stood against the potential sale of F-16 fighter planes to Turkey.
Top US lawmaker objects to potential F-16 sale to Turkey
The Biden administration has told Congress it is preparing the potential $20 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, sources familiar with the matter said on Friday (13 January), sparking an immediate objection from a senior US lawmaker.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey needs to turn the legal troubles of Menendez into opportunity, Turkish media said on Tuesday.
“Menendez being out of the picture is an advantage,” Erdoğan was quoted as telling reporters aboard a flight.
NATO member Turkey requested in October 2021 to buy 40 Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 fighters and 79 modernisation kits for its existing warplanes. President Joe Biden’s administration supports the $20-billion sale.
Erdoğan’s last announcement on 26 September was that his country will say yes to Sweden’s NATO bid if the US keeps its promise to sell the F-16s.