Por Jonathan Dienst, Courtney Copenhagen y Tom Winter – NBC News
The Justice Department is investigating whether Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, and his wife received lavish gifts including a Mercedes-Benz car, an expensive New Jersey apartment, money and jewelry, sources familiar with the case said.
According to the sources, investigators are investigating whether the gifts — valued in the tens of thousands of dollars — were given by the owner or associates of a business in Edgewater, New Jersey, who won a controversial exclusive contract with the Egyptian government to carry out carry out the so-called Halal certifications of the meat – so that it meets the requirements under Islamic law. That contract was awarded to the company even after Justice Department officials complained that the firm had no experience in this field.
Questions about the gifts were first reported by WNBC and NBCNewyork.com
“I’m sure it’s going to end in absolutely nothing,” Menéndez said last week of the investigation, denying that he had acted inappropriately in the case of the federal investigation into possible corruption.
Senator Robert Menendez, D-NJ, speaks during a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 26, 2022. Getty Images
Sources familiar with the investigation have said that Damian Williams, United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, along with agents from the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigations are investigating whether the senator and his wife, Nadine Arslanian, received gifts inappropriate on the part of the owner of the company IS EG Halal, and if the senator gave anything in return.
The alleged gifts do not appear on their tax returns
Menendez, who is a Democrat, is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and oversees billions of dollars in aid to Egypt.
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“Prosecutors are obviously going to look at whether money or apartments or cars were given to the senator or someone close to him in return for some of his actions as an official,” said Chuck Rosenberg, NBC News legal analyst.
In addition to the investigation into a possible favor-sharing scheme, sources familiar with the matter said IRS investigators are looking into whether the alleged gifts were disclosed in the senator and his wife’s tax returns. Neither item is listed on Menendez’s Senate disclosure forms.
The Senate rules state in part that gifts to members of the Senate or people close to a senator are considered gifts, if the senator “has reason to believe that it was given because of his official position.”
A spokeswoman for Menendez declined to comment when asked if the senator or his wife received a Mercedes, free rent, money or jewelry from IS EG Halal or its associates. The spokeswoman referred to earlier statements given to NBC News in which the senator acknowledged that there was an “investigation” underway, saying that “if there are any official inquiries, the senator is available to provide any assistance requested of him or his office.” “.
Exclusive contract for a company with little experience
In 2019, IS EG Halal was awarded an exclusive contract with the Egyptian Government to certify Halal meat exports around the world. Seven companies that had been doing it for a long time were fired by the Egyptian government. Those firms lost millions of dollars in business to the Edgewater firm, run by a Christian with little experience in Islamic certifications of international meat imports and exports.
Peter Paradis, a former assistant inspector general for the Department of Agriculture, said the contract change “went against logic.”
Paradis has no role in the current criminal investigation of the senator and his relationship with IS EG Halal. But he recalled previous Agriculture reports on the controversy, including one that indicated IS EG Halal “has no prior relationship with the US meat industry or Islamic organizations.”
“This corporation has no history in this type of certification, however, does the country in question [Egipto] chooses them as the only entity to carry out the task?, Paradis commented.
A spokeswoman for Wael Hana, owner of EG Halal, denied the accusations. “The allegations about cars, apartments, money and jewelry being given by anyone associated with IS EG Hala to Senator Menéndez or his wife, much less in exchange for favorable treatment, have no basis,” she said.
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Sources familiar with the matter said that as part of the investigation, the FBI is looking into whether any IS EG executives or associates paid any bribes to an Egyptian official. Officials with the International Agricultural Service of the Department of Agriculture in Egypt have handed over documents related to the case to the Department of Justice, the sources said.
Senator Robert Menendez, D-NJ, and his wife, Nadine Arslanian, arrive for a reception at the White House on May 16, 2022. Getty Images
“If representatives of this company were paying Egyptian officials for their consideration, favors or business advantages, that would be a crime,” Rosenberg said, explaining that such payments violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
IS EG Halal has said the firm won the contract based on merit and denied any wrongdoing.
A spokeswoman said the IS EG Halal firm obtained the contract “without the assistance of the senator or any other public official of the United States. Nor is there any evidence that the contract was won on the basis of bribery or corruption in Egypt.”
A spokesman for the Egyptian embassy in Washington, DC, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The senator’s wife: an old friend of the company owner
Sources close to IS EG Halal said that Hana, the owner, has been friends with the senator’s wife for a long time, and that their friendship dates back to before she met the senator. A source familiar with the company said Arslanian had received gifts from the owner, including jewelry, for years.
Sources familiar with the matter said investigators want to know if Egyptian officials knew of the ties between IS EG Halal and the senator’s wife, and if there was any effort by any Egyptian officials to try to carry out a linked foreign influence operation. to Menendez.
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“A senator can certainly help someone in his state,” Rosenberg said. “He can create connections. He can coordinate meetings. He can support businesses within his jurisdiction. What he can’t do is receive money or gifts in exchange for his official actions.”
A spokesperson for Sen. Menendez declined to comment on the allegations due to the ongoing “investigation.”
It is not the first investigation for possible corruption against Menéndez
In recent years, the United States Supreme Court has made some decisions that narrow the definition of public corruption. In 2018, criminal charges against Menéndez were dropped after a separate corruption case. The trial ended with a hung jury. The allegations in that case were that Menendez had received gifts and free trips on a private plane from Salomon Melgen, who was found guilty of Medicare fraud.
Prosecutor Damian Williams is in charge of the ongoing investigation, according to sources and individuals who have received subpoenas from the court. Nicholas Biase, a spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office, declined to comment. An FBI spokesperson and an IRS criminal investigations spokeswoman also declined to comment.
The Menendez investigation appears to have grown in scope in recent weeks, following a new round of grand jury subpoenas, including one to North Bergen mayor Nicholas Sacco. The new subpoenas do not appear to be related to the IS EG Halal case, but to questions about the senator and the state legislature related to a proposed development agreement, people familiar with the matter said.
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