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27 Sep, 2023 18:01

Architect of Russia sanctions pleads not guilty to corruption charges

Bob Menendez is accused of taking bribes and cash to serve the interests of the Egyptian government
Architect of Russia sanctions pleads not guilty to corruption charges

US Senator Robert Menendez pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges of bribery, fraud, and extortion. Menendez has faced calls to resign from both parties in Washington, but has vowed to stay in office while he fights the allegations.

Menendez entered his plea at a federal court in New York. His wife, Nadine Menendez, and two other co-defendants also pleaded not guilty. Menendez was released on a $100,000 bond and ordered to surrender his personal passport. A fifth defendant pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.

Menendez and his wife were charged on Friday with participating in a complicated scheme that saw them allegedly accept “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for using Menendez’s power and influence as Senator to serve the interests of a foreign state actor (Egypt) from at least 2018 to 2022,” according to the indictment.

The Democratic lawmaker is also accused of taking payments in exchange for pressuring prosecutors into investigating several New Jersey businessmen.

A search of Menendez’s home yielded around $100,000 worth of gold bars, as well as nearly $500,000 in hidden cash. Menendez has claimed that this stash was his “old-fashioned” method of storing money that he had “lawfully derived.”

Menendez headed the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and played a leading role in drawing up the US’ anti-Russian sanctions. More recently, Menendez advocated for sanctions on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev over Baku’s retaking of the ethnically-Armenian territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

According to the indictment against him, Menendez used his position on the committee to end a “hold” on US military aid to Egypt, and to pass sensitive government information to one of his co-defendants, an Egyptian-American businessman.

While Menendez has stepped down as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has resisted calls from Republicans and fellow Democrats to resign from the Senate. Menendez has represented New Jersey since 2006, and is up for re-election next year. With the Senate split 51-49 in favor of the Democratic Party, Republicans only need to win two seats next year to control both Congressional chambers.

Menendez’s indictment marks the second time he has been accused of corruption. He was charged in 2015 with taking donations from businessman Dr. Salomon Melgen in exchange for helping Melgen in his legal disputes with the US government. Charges against Menendez were dropped in 2018 following a mistrial.