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Menendez pleads not guilty in Egypt-linked corruption case

Wael Hana, a co-defendant, was arrested at Kennedy International Airport Tuesday after he voluntarily flew from Egypt to the US, lawyer says
Senator Bob Menendez and his wife Nadine Menendez arrive at a Manhattan court after they were indicted on bribery charges on 27 September, 2023 in New York City (AFP)

US Senator Robert Menendez pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges of taking bribes as part of a corrupt scheme that benefited the government of Egypt and a New Jersey businessman.

Menendez has maintained his innocence since federal prosecutors unveiled corruption charges against him on Friday. The senior US lawmaker has said he is the victim of an “active smear campaign” and has claimed he is being unjustly targeted because of his Latin American heritage.

US Magistrate Judge Ona Wang in Manhattan said that Menendez could be released on a $100,000 personal recognizance bond, which allows the senator not to pay any upfront bail money. Although he is required to surrender his personal passport, Menendez will be allowed to maintain his official passport and travel abroad on government business.

Co-defendants Nadine Menendez, 56, businessmen Jose Uribe, 56, and Fred Daibes, 66, also pleaded not guilty. Egyptian-American businessman Wael Hana, 40, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.

Prosecutors allege that in exchange for approving weapons deliveries and aid to Egypt, Menendez and his wife, Nadine, received hundreds of thousands of dollars, gold bars, a Mercedes-Benz, and several exercise machines, which were all facilitated by Hana, Daibes and Uribe. Middle East Eye broke down the key takeways from the case. 

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On Tuesday, Hana flew back from Egypt and was arrested at John F Kennedy International Airport, leaving his wife and three children in the North African country in order to voluntarily face corruption charges, his lawyer said.

Prosecutors allege that since at least 2018, Menendez has secretly been meeting Egyptian military and intelligence officials as part of the scheme. They allege that he secretly lobbied on Egypt’s behalf with US senators and the Biden administration, and passed along secret, non-public information to Egyptian officials.

The scheme started when Nadine, Menendez's then-unemployed girlfriend, introduced him to her long-time friend Wael Hana, who facilitated meetings between Menendez and Egyptian military and intelligence officials in order to ensure that US military aid to Cairo continued unhindered, according to the indictment.

Menendez allegedly passed along secret, non-public information to Egyptian officials, lobbied on Cairo’s behalf, and assisted in preparing rebuttals to concerns from fellow senators about human rights issues in the country.

Hana's New Jersey-based company, IS EG Halal, was a vehicle for bribe money to be distributed to Menendez and his wife. In 2019, the company was awarded exclusive rights from the Egyptian government to be the sole provider of halal foods to Egypt, despite having no experience certifying food by Islamic law, prosecutors say.

Last summer investigators discovered $100,000 in gold bars and $480,000 in cash at Menendez’s home, much of it stuffed into envelopes and in clothing, closets and a safe.

More than half of all US Democratic senators have called on Menendez to resign. Menendez stepped down from his powerful position as the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but has refused to resign from the Senate.

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