Who is US Senator Bob Menendez and how is his 'bribery-for-influence' scandal linked to Egypt?

Who is US Senator Bob Menendez and how is his 'bribery-for-influence' scandal linked to Egypt?
US Senator Robert Menendez faces legal and political indictment over allegations of accepting bribes to benefit the Egyptian government.
3 min read
26 September, 2023
Sen. Robert Menendez speaking to media prior to a weekly Senate Democratic Policy Luncheon at the Capitol May 8, 2018 [Getty Images]

US Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, along with his wife, was indicted last week on federal bribery offences for allegedly accepting gold bars, cash, a Mercedes-Benz, and other gifts in a bid to shield three businessmen and benefit the Egyptian government. Prominent lawmakers including Democrats have called for Menendez's resignation but he has so far refused to step down.

Who is Menendez

Senator Robert Menendez, a prominent figure in the US political landscape, has been representing New Jersey as a Democrat since 2006. Until stepping down from the role recently, he was the chair of the US Senate committee on foreign relations. This isn't the first time Menendez has faced allegations of misconduct. In 2017, he was tried on charges of accepting private flights, campaign funds, and other incentives from a wealthy benefactor in return for political favors. However, that trial concluded with a jury deadlock leading to a mistrial.

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How is Egypt connected to the scandal?

This latest indictment alleges Menendez and his wife of receiving bribes including gold bars, cash, and a luxurious Mercedes-Benz. The alleged motive: To shield three businessmen and assist the Egyptian government, with whom the US has complex relations, supplying Cairo with military aid since the Camp David Accords despite its human rights record.

Menendez and his wife deny the charges. He even played the race card, saying those behind this campaign simply cannot accept that "a first-generation Latino American from humble beginnings could rise to be a U.S. Senator".

Wael 'Will' Hana, an Egyptian-American businessman named in the case, is accused of facilitating dealings between Menendez and Egyptian officials. In exchange, Hana allegedly offered financial benefits to Nadine Menendez, the senator's wife, who is of Lebanese and Armenian heritage. Prosecutors claim she was put on the company's payroll as part of the deal with Menendez.

These allegations further suggest that Menendez used his position to preserve a controversial monopoly that Hana held on the certification of US-produced halal meat exports to Egypt. Suspicions around Hana acquiring this monopoly, despite his lack of experience in halal certification, were first reported by the Egyptian newspaper Mada Masr

Prosecutors claim that Menendez shared information concerning US military aid to Egypt, which had been withheld due to human rights concerns. After a private 2018 meeting, Hana reportedly informed an Egyptian official that a ban on certain arms exports to Egypt had been lifted.

What's next

The indictment shook US politics. Democratic senators and lawmakers, including progressive Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, urged Menendez to resign. John Fetterman, another US Senate Democrat, also hinted at Menendez's potential resignation, while a Democratic congressman from New Jersey announced his intent to challenge Menendez in the coming primary election.

Menendez remains defiant, stating, ‘I am not going anywhere.’ Allegations extend beyond the Egyptian connection; Menendez is also accused of attempting to influence the Justice Department on behalf of a New Jersey real estate developer who was facing bank fraud charges.

The US attorney who announced the indictment, Damien Williams , commented on the senator's attempts to sway other officials: ‘Fortunately, the public officials the senator sought to influence did not bend to the pressure.’

The Egyptian government has not yet commented on the scandal, but already the case has triggered new calls for the U.S. to halt military aid to Egypt.