US congressman charged with taking bribes from Azerbaijan and Mexico

Democrat Henry Cuellar is the second congressman accused of corruption in less than a year

Henry Cuellar speaking at a Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill on April 10, 2024. Reuters
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Another US congressman has been charged in a foreign bribery case.

Federal prosecutors on Friday unsealed an indictment against Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas, and his wife on claims the couple accepted $600,000 in bribes from an Azerbaijan-run oil company and a bank with headquarters in Mexico.

“In exchange for the bribes paid by the Azerbaijani oil and gas company, Congressman Cuellar allegedly agreed to use his office to influence US foreign policy in favour of Azerbaijan,” the Department of Justice said in a statement.

The DOJ also claims that in exchange for the bribes paid by the Mexican bank, Mr Cuellar agreed to “influence legislative activity and to advise and pressure high-ranking US executive branch officials regarding measures beneficial to the bank.”

The charges come after Senator Bob Menendez, also a Democrat and former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was indicted in a corruption case involving Egypt and Qatar.

Coincidentally, Mr Menendez had recently been at the forefront of Washington's efforts to halt assistance to Baku amid its siege on Nagorno-Karabakh late last year.

What is US Senator Bob Menendez accused of doing for Egypt?

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The UN Security Council discussed Azerbaijan's blockade on the territory in August, after a former International Criminal Court prosecutor said the blockade may amount to a “genocide” against Armenians.

Mr Cuellar said in a Friday statement that he and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, “are innocent of these allegations.”

“Everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas,” Mr Cuellar said.

“Before I took action, I proactively sought legal advice from the House Ethics Committee, who gave me more than one written opinion, along with an additional opinion from a national law firm.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the Cuellar home and campaign office in 2022.

Mr Cuellar has served in Congress for over two decades, and has been critical of the Democratic party's more left-leaning wing.

A rare anti-abortion Democrat, he has also been more conservative on issues involving the southern border with Mexico, of which his district is close to.

He joined a group of moderate Democrats and Republicans this week in condemning Colombia's severing of ties with Israel, accusing President Gustavo Petro of anti-Semitism over the move.

Updated: May 04, 2024, 6:56 AM