Updated 9/22/23 5:00pm
Senator Robert Menendez, his wife, and three businessmen have all been indicted by a federal grand jury in a corruption scheme. The New Jersey Democrat and his spouse, Nadine Menendez, allegedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for enriching and protecting the three men and supporting the Egyptian government. The scandal has caused Menendez to step down as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The Department of Justice announced the indictment on Friday. Menendez is among the most powerful men in the upper house of Congress as he chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The indictment reads, “From at least 2018 up to and including in or about 2022, [Menendez] and Nadine Menendez engaged in a corrupt relationship with three New Jersey associates and businessmen – Will Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes.” It continues, “Menendez and Nadine Menendez agreed to and did accept hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for using Menendez’s power and influence as a Senator to seek to protect and enrich Hana, Uribe, and Daibes and to benefit the Arab Republic of Egypt.”
The indictment added, “Those bribes included cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle, and other things of value.” The DoJ believes it located over $500,000 in bribe money and other assets.
Menendez faced corruption charges in 2017 and was not convicted due to a hung jury. The Senator and his wife have denied the changes in the DoJ indictment. The co-defendants have also denied involvement.
Hana is an Egyptian-American who owns IS EG Halal Certified, Inc. According to the company’s LinkedIn page, it “is the only entity exclusively authorized by the Government of Egypt to certify Halal exports worldwide.” Hana is a business associate of Uribe and Daibes.
Daibes is a New Jersey developer who pled guilty is banking crimes last year and is scheduled to be sentenced in October. The real estate businessman has been able to delay his sentencing four times. During the period, he inked a $45 million development agreement with the Qatari government.
Regarding the scheme to aid Cairo, the indictment explains, “Menendez promised to and did use his influence and power and breach his official duty in ways that benefited the Government of Egypt and Will Hana, an Egyptian-American businessman, among others. Among other actions, Menendez provided sensitive US Government information and took other steps that secretly aided the Government of Egypt.” Additionally, the document alleges, “Menendez improperly advised and pressured an official at the US Department of Agriculture for the purpose of protecting a business monopoly granted to Hana by Egypt and used in part to fund the bribes being paid to Menendez through [his wife].”
The DoJ believes Menendez wielded his influence on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to steer US policy for Egypt. “As the Ranking Member and then the Chairman, and therefore possessed influence over the Executive Branch’s decisions to provide foreign military sales, foreign military financing, and other aid or support to or for the benefit of the Government of Egypt,” the indictment states.
Cairo is one of the largest US military aid recipients at over $1 billion annually. Egypt is also notorious for human rights abuses. According to the State Department 2022 Human Rights Report on Cairo, it found substantial abuses by the government. Human rights abuses include “unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents; enforced disappearance by state security; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners or detainees; transnational repression against individuals in another country; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in a conflict, including reportedly enforced disappearances, abductions, physical abuses, and unlawful or widespread civilian deaths or harm,” a short portion of the State Department report reads.
Cairo is led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who swept to power in a 2014 military coup. Since taking over as president, Sisi has imprisoned and suppressed all political rivals to cement his hold on power.
While President Joe Biden states that his foreign policy is centered on respect for human rights and upholding democracy, Washington has continued to fund and arm the Egyptian military under the current administration. Last week, the White House announced it would slightly curb aid to Egypt. Washington plans to take $85 million in foreign ministry aid for Cairo and redirect the aid to Taipei. Still, Egypt is set to receive over $1.2 billion in American taxpayer dollars for weapons this year.
The investigation believes Menendez likely had an influence over the weapon sales and aid approvals for Cairo. “As a matter of longstanding, voluntary practice, the State Department would typically not proceed with a transfer of foreign military financing grant money to Egypt’s bank account or with a foreign military sale to Egypt, while the Chairman or the Ranking Member of the SFRC had not signed off on, and was maintaining a “hold” on, such a transfer or sale.” The indictment adds, “As a result, at all times relevant to the Indictment, Menendez, as the Chairman or the Ranking Member of the SFRC, possessed substantial influence over foreign military sales and foreign military financing to Egypt.”
Additionally, Menendez passed information deemed sensitive to Cairo through Hana and Nadine. “[The Senator] again met with Hana on or about May 6, 2018. Later that same day, Menendez sought from the State Department non-public information regarding the number and nationality of persons serving at the US Embassy in Cairo. Although this information was not classified, it was deemed highly sensitive because it could pose significant operational security concerns if disclosed to a foreign government or if made public.” the prosecutors state in the indictment. “Without telling his professional staff, SFRC staff, or the State Department that he was doing so, on or about May 7, 2018, Menendez texted that sensitive, non-public embassy information to his then-girlfriend Nadine. [She] forwarded this message to Hana, who forwarded it to an Egyptian government official.”
In 2019, Hana would request that Menendez help maintain his monopoly over Washington’s objections. The senator aided Hana by “improperly” advising and pressuring a high-level Department of Agriculture official to stop interfering with Hana’s company.
Uribe and Daibes are accused of paying Menendez to interfere in prosecutions against them. While Menendez says the allegations in the indictment are “baseless,” some groups and politicians are calling for the Senator to step down.
Later in the day on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Menendez would step down as head of the Foreign Relations Committee. “Bob Menendez has been a dedicated public servant and is always fighting hard for the people of New Jersey. He has a right to due process and a fair trial,” Schumer said in a statement.