(Bloomberg) -- US Senator Bob Menendez pleaded not guilty to a new federal charge that he conspired with his wife and a businessman to act as an agent of Egypt while he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
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The New Jersey Democrat entered his plea Monday in New York federal court to a revised indictment that includes the foreign agent count as well as earlier charges that he and his wife, Nadine, accepted bribes of cash, gold bars and a Mercedes convertible. In exchange, prosecutors allege, Menendez corruptly helped Egypt and three New Jersey businessmen.
Menendez, 69, denies that he acted on Egypt’s behalf or took bribes, and touts his record of criticizing human rights abuses in Egypt. He temporarily stepped down from his powerful post atop the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but he’s rebuffed calls from Democrats in New Jersey and the Senate that he resign and not seek reelection next year.
Prosecutors allege Menendez secretly worked on behalf of Egypt in several ways. They include giving Egyptian officials “highly sensitive” information about personnel at the US embassy in Cairo; ghostwriting a letter on Egypt’s behalf urging his Senate colleagues to release a hold on US aid; and pushing the US State Department to get involved in stalled negotiations over a dam project on the Nile River.
In court Monday, Menendez stood at attention as he answered questions briefly and entered his plea during the two-and-a-half minute hearing. He said nothing to dozens of reporters and photographers as he left the lower Manhattan courthouse and got into a black sedan.
Read More: Menendez Faces Foreign Agent Charge in Revised Bribery Case
Last week, Nadine Menendez pleaded not guilty to the revised indictment, as did businessmen Wael Hana, Fred Daibes and Jose Uribe. The judge allowed Menendez to postpone his arraignment until Monday because he had Senate business in Washington. Menendez and the other four pleaded not guilty to the initial indictment on Sept. 27.
Beyond the actions Menendez allegedly took for Egypt, prosecutors say he also worked to benefit Hana, an Egyptian American businessman. Menendez pressed a US Department of Agriculture official to protect the exclusive right Egypt gave to Hana’s company, EG Halal Certified Inc., to certify US food exports as compliant with halal standards, the US says.
At the arraignment last week, a prosecutor said Hana has a net worth of more than $25 million, as well as commercial properties in Egypt and Uruguay. Hana also is “deeply committed to the Egyptian government, and specifically Egyptian intelligence officers,” the prosecutor said.
US District Judge Sidney Stein has set a May 6 date for the trial, which would be Menendez’s second in seven years. In 2017, jurors deadlocked on charges that he took gifts of private jet travel, a Paris vacation and campaign contributions in exchange for pushing a Florida doctor’s business interests within the US government. A judge declared a mistrial and federal prosecutors later dropped the case.
Read More: Senator Menendez Charged With Taking Bribes of Gold Bars, Cash
The case is US v. Menendez, 23-cr-490, US District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
(Updates with details about the hearing in fifth paragraph.)
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