US senator a 'greedy' politician who traded access for bribes, jury told

Bob Menendez and wife accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes including cash, mortgage payments, Mercedes-Benz convertible and gold bars

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Prosecutors portrayed Democratic US Senator Bob Menendez as a greedy politician willing to help foreign governments in exchange for bribes, at the start of his corruption trial in New York on Wednesday.

“This case is about a public official who put greed first, who put his own interests about the duty to the people, who put his power up for sale,” Lara Pomerantz said in her opening statement.

“This was not politics as usual. This was politics for profit.”

Jurors were told that New Jersey's senior senator used his wife Nadine as a go-between, trying to help Egypt secure billions of dollars in US military assistance, and aid the business and legal interests of two businessmen from his state who were linked to local criminal cases.

Prosecutors said Mr Menendez and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes including cash, mortgage payments, a Mercedes-Benz convertible and gold bars.

But his lawyer disputed those claims in his opening statement, describing the three-term senator as a “lifelong public servant” who was betrayed by a wife who kept "him in the dark” about her financial dealings, including with the businessmen.

The senator has pleaded not guilty to 16 criminal charges including bribery, fraud, acting as a foreign agent and obstruction.

Wael Hana and Fred Daibes, the two New Jersey businessmen, are being tried alongside him and have also pleaded not guilty.

Ms Menendez has also pleaded not guilty. She faces a July 8 trial, with a delay resulting from what her lawyers called a serious medical condition.

It is Mr Menendez's second time facing bribery charges, and this recent case has cost him leadership of the powerful Senate foreign relations committee.

His previous trial in 2017 ended in a mistrial after jurors deadlocked.

Prosecutors detailed a complex and sordid array of corruption lasting from 2018 to 2023, with the Menendez couple accepting bribes from the two businessman and an associate, insurance broker Jose Uribe.

Mr Uribe pleaded guilty in March to bribery and fraud, and is expected to testify against Mr Menendez.

Mr Menendez is accused of helping Mr Hana obtain a lucrative monopoly on certifying that meat exports to Egypt conformed to Islamic law.

Prosecutors said he tried to help Mr Daibes secure millions of dollars from a Qatari investment fund.

They also said Mr Menendez gave Egyptian officials “sensitive” non-public information about personnel at the US embassy in Cairo and helped Egypt to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid.

FBI agents found more than $480,000 of cash in the Menendezes' home, much of it stashed in clothing, closets and a safe, prosecutors said.

They said Mr Hana and Mr Daibes provided the couple with more than $100,000 in gold bars, while Mr Uribe helped them to buy a Mercedes, with money disguised as a loan.

The trial could continue until early July.

Updated: May 16, 2024, 12:14 AM