Senator Bob Menendez's trial begins with shocking allegations of rampant corruption

New York, New York - Robert Menendez put his power as a top US senator "up for sale," prosecutors argued Wednesday in opening arguments at his high-profile corruption trial in New York.

New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez was accused by prosecutors of putting his political office "up for sale" during his corruption trial on Wednesday.
New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez was accused by prosecutors of putting his political office "up for sale" during his corruption trial on Wednesday.  © ANGELA WEISS / AFP

Menendez, a 70-year-old Democrat from New Jersey, and his wife Nadine are accused of extortion, obstruction of justice and accepting bribes to perform favors for businessmen with connections to Egypt and Qatar – charges they deny.

In a raid on Menendez's New Jersey home, FBI agents allegedly found nearly $500,000 in cash hidden around the house.

Gold bars worth around $150,000 and a luxury Mercedes-Benz convertible, gifted by one of the businessmen, were also recovered.

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"He was powerful. He was also corrupt," prosecutor Lara Pomerantz told the jury, which was selected Monday.

Menendez led the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee until the charges were filed, and is on trial in federal court in Manhattan with two of the businessmen – Egyptian-American Wael Hana and Fred Daibes, a real estate developer.

A third businessman, insurance broker Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty to bribery charges in March and has been assisting investigators.

Nadine Menendez will be tried separately in July.

The most serious charges could carry up to 20 years in prison upon conviction.

Menendez's wife had "financial concerns"

Menendez's co-defendant, the Egyptian-American Wael Hana, was also present in court on Wednesday.
Menendez's co-defendant, the Egyptian-American Wael Hana, was also present in court on Wednesday.  © ANGELA WEISS / AFP

Menendez's lawyer Avi Weitzman insisted in his opening remarks that his client "never took bribes."

Attempting to shift the blame, the lawyer said Menendez's wife, Nadine, whom the senator met in 2018 and married two years later, had "financial concerns" that she kept hidden from him.

"She made sure Bob wasn't in these conversations," he said.

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In the Egypt-related case, Menendez is accused of accepting bribes to use his power and influence to enrich his co-conspirators and benefit the government of Egypt.

Menendez, who has rejected calls for his resignation, allegedly helped Hana protect his monopoly on US exports of halal food products to Egypt.

The senator is also accused of helping funnel US military assistance to the government in Cairo.

A senator since 2006 and before that a member of the House of Representatives for 14 years, Menendez, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba, has been a Democratic stalwart in Congress for three decades.

He was previously indicted on bribery and corruption charges in 2015, but that case ended in a mistrial in 2017.

Cover photo: ANGELA WEISS / AFP

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