Senator Bob Menendez's corruption trial begins in New York

Prosecutors seek to prove former Senate foreign relations committee chairman paid for lavish lifestyle through bribery scheme

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The high-profile corruption trial of US senator Bob Menendez started on Monday with jury selection, as the long-time Washington foreign policy official prepares to face charges that he engaged in corruption and aided the Egyptian and Qatari governments.

Mr Menendez told reporters on Capitol Hill last week that it had not yet been determined whether he will testify in the New York trial.

No jurors were selected yet on the first day in the trial that may last two months, according to US District Judge Sidney Stein. Jury selection will continue on Tuesday.

Federal prosecutors are working to prove Mr Menendez and his wife, Nadine Arslanian-Menendez, funded a lavish lifestyle through an illegal bribery scheme linked to Cairo and Doha.

Charges also include claims that Mr Menendez aided the Egyptian government with military sales, financing and ghostwriting a letter on behalf of Cairo to fellow senators advocating the release of $300 million in aid.

The Department of Justice issued those charges in September against the couple, and businessmen Wael Hana and Fred Daibes. All have pleaded not guilty.

Mr Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, will face a jury alongside Mr Hana and Mr Daibes, while his wife will be tried separately.

Those charges prompted Mr Menendez's resignation as chairman from the powerful Senate committee, where he had regulatory authority over the State Department and played a key role in pushing forwards Washington's foreign policy legislation.

Despite his resignation from that post, he is still in the Senate and a standing member on the committee.

But it appears that the trial will be interrupting his congressional duties. Mr Menendez said on Thursday that he intends to be in court every day “subject to the schedule”.

The case is expected to last for weeks and overlaps with the Senate session.

Mr Menendez's defence strategy remains unclear, although he has adamantly maintained his innocence and has pointed to a track record of halting US assistance to Cairo and criticising Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi.

He conceded, though, that the trial may be “his biggest fight yet”.

Politicians on trial, a US trend?

Mr Menendez is not the only politician or civil servant to come under the federal microscope recently.

Last week, federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment against Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar 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.

While not a politician, Victor Rocha, a former ambassador to Bolivia who was also on the National Security Council, pleaded guilty last month to acting as a foreign agent for Cuba for decades.

Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner in the 2024 presidential election race against Joe Biden, is in the middle of a high-stakes hush-money trial in New York.

It is one of four criminal cases the former president is facing, including dozens of charges.

That has thrown the US into uncharted legal and political waters that could have massive implications for this year's national election and beyond, as Mr Trump is the first former president in US history to be criminally charged.

Updated: May 13, 2024, 10:22 PM