Bob Menendez corruption trial to begin: ‘I look forward to proving my innocence’

<span>Bob Menendez after a Senate luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, on 23 January 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images</span>
Bob Menendez after a Senate luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, on 23 January 2024.Photograph: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

The criminal corruption trial of Democratic US senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey is scheduled to get under way in a Manhattan federal court Monday, with prosecutors preparing a colorful tale of a greedy politician with a fondness for gold bullion, fast cars, and almost half a million dollars in cash found hidden around his home.

Menendez, 70, insists he is innocent of the 16 felony charges brought against him by the US attorney’s office of the southern district of New York, including bribery, extortion, obstruction, and acting as a foreign agent.

But prosecutors allege he used his considerable power and influence as chair of the Senate foreign relations committee to illegally smooth over lucrative business deals for several associates with the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

Related: Bob Menendez faces fresh corruption allegations involving Qatar

And they say the 13 gold bars – and money found stuffed into jacket pockets, closets and a safe during a summer 2022 raid on his house in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, as well as a gleaming new Mercedes-Benz in the garage – were his rewards.

Menendez resigned his committee post but refused to stand down as a senator, even after a superseding indictment in January leveled new allegations, including that he took gifts of more cash and gold, as well as Formula 1 tickets and high-end wristwatches, for promoting Qatari interests.

The charges are wide-ranging. Prosecutors say he also divulged secret information to Egyptian officials about the number and nationalities of US embassy staff in Cairo – and that he tried to disrupt a New Jersey criminal case against another businessman friend.

“What the government really has going for it in this case is the picture of a powerful senator renting his office to a foreign power,” Daniel Richman, an expert on federal bribery law at Columbia Law School, told the Washington Post.

Politicians in his own party have been critical of Menendez, who will stand trial alongside his wife Nadine and three New Jersey businessmen, including Wael Hana, an Egyptian government representative alleged to have set up shell companies to transfer the money and some of the gifts.

The Pennsylvania Democratic senator John Fetterman is among those demanding Menendez’s resignation and has repeatedly called the New Jersey senator “a sleazebag”. Fetterman told CNN last week: “He won’t be around much longer – that would be my bet.”

Menendez has declared he will not be running as a Democrat in November for re-election to the New Jersey Senate seat he has held since 2006. But he has not ruled out a campaign as an independent.

At a press conference last September, Menendez remained defiant, claiming the $480,000 found in the raid was for his personal use and insisting that he would not quit. Asked last week by CNN if he would resign from the senate if convicted, he replied: “I am looking forward to proving my innocence”.

The trial, to begin Monday with jury selection, is expected to last several weeks.

It is the second time in a decade that Menendez has faced bribery charges after a 2017 mistrial into separate corruption claims, including that he misused campaign donations from a Florida eye doctor and cavorted with prostitutes at the doctor’s home in the Dominican Republic.

A jury was unable to reach a verdict after an 11-week trial, and prosecutors announced in February 2018 that they would not seek to retry him. Menendez was elected to the Senate for his fourth term later that year.