Senator Menendez was indicted on a set of explosive charges of corruptly aiding the government in Cairo.
The indictment of Senator Bob Menendez on charges of corruptly aiding the Egyptian government has set the stage for a week of renewed pressure on US lawmakers to withhold military aid to Egypt.
Menendez stepped town temporarily from his position as head of the Senate foreign relations committee on Friday after he was indicted by New York’s southern district court on a set of explosive and detailed charges.
These included accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes as well as gold bars, payments towards his mortgage and gifts including a luxury car, in exchange for using his influence and breaching his duties “in ways that benefited the government of Egypt”, while bolstering a halal meat certification business based in his New Jersey district linked to the Egyptian state.
The senator has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, stating “those who believe in justice believe in innocence until proven guilty”.
The indictment also details the senator’s close relationships with members of the Egyptian intelligence services, including meetings in his office in Washington and in Cairo to discuss the $1.3bn in foreign military aid given to Egypt by the US each year, an area where Menendez possessed substantial control due to his position.
The Biden administration recently opted to withhold $85m of military aid for Egypt citing human rights concerns, substantially less than the amounts withheld in previous years. The move sparked criticism from observers who pointed to Egypt’s abysmal human rights record, citing tens of thousands detained under president Abdel-Fatah al Sisi including political prisoners and US green card holders.
With one week remaining before the end of the financial year, Menendez’s indictment has sparked furious calls from rights groups and lobbyists in Washington demanding that US lawmakers withhold on national security grounds a further $235m in military aid to Egypt that was previously approved by the Biden administration earlier this month.
“According to the three-count indictment, while enriching himself, Menendez used his position to prioritize the wants of Egypt’s corrupt and brutal government and security services,” said the Washington-based group the Freedom Initiative, which focuses on political prisoners held across the Middle East.
“The indictment alleges significant efforts by the Egyptian government to improperly influence US policy and law. President Biden and his administration should demand an accounting from the Egyptian government and announce a review of the bilateral relationship.”
Seth Binder, advocacy director at the Project on Middle East Democracy in Washington, said that his organisation would be among those pressing lawmakers to withhold the military aid to Egypt in light of the accusations against Senator Menendez and revelations around Egyptian interference in US policy.
“This is a rare thing; Congress jumping in like this is not commonly done. But also the information in the indictment is quite unusual,” he said.
He added: “We often hear that using military aid as leverage won’t work, as the Egyptian government doesn’t really care about the assistance. This indictment should put that argument to bed, it has clearly been proven false.”
Among the details in the indictment against Menendez are text messages to his wife, Nadine Menendez, which were passed on to Egyptian officials, specifying sensitive information regarding staff at the US embassy in Cairo. The accusations also include examples of Menendez communicating with Egyptian officials, via his wife, about his personal approval of specific arms sales to Egypt.
“Asking for names and individuals working at an embassy: that part is truly scandalous to my mind,” said Binder. “We know that Egypt is regularly trying to harass Egyptian nationals that work at foreign embassies, to use them to gather intelligence and information. Playing a part in that is really dirty.”
The extensive allegations against Menendez appear likely to affect multiple areas of US foreign policy, while also emboldening rights groups who have long complained of the Biden administration’s broken promises on Egypt. As a candidate, Biden promised “no blank cheques” for Sisi, belied by increasingly warm relations once he took office.
Source : THEGUARDIAN