Jury selection begins in bribery case against Senator Bob Menendez

Jury selection is set to begin on Monday in the trial of New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, who has been accused of allegedly accepting gold bars and cash in exchange for political favours.

Mr Menendez, 70, will stand trial in a Manhattan federal court along with two New Jersey businessmen–real estate developer Fred Daibes and Egyption-American businessman Wael Hana. All three have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

A third businessman, Jose Uribe, has pleaded guilty and has agreed to testify against the other defendants.

Mr Menendez’s wife has also been charged, but her trial will not start until at least July. An attorney representing Nadine Menendez wife has previously said that she "denies any wrongdoing and will vigorously defend against these allegations in court."

Mr Menendez faces 16 felony charges in total, including bribery, extortion, acting as a foreign agent and obstruction of justice. If he is convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

The senator, who has held his position since 2006, and his wife, are accused of accepting hundreds of thousands worth of bribes in the form of cash, gold bars, jewellery and a Mercedez-Benz convertible in exchange for political favours that benefitted the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

In addition, prosecutors brought a superseding indictment against Mr Menendez in March for allegedly trying to cover up the bribes as “loans.”

In the case of Mr Hana, prosecutors claim that the businessman had arranged meetings between Mr Menendez and Egyptian officials, who urged the senator to sign off on military aid.

In return, Mr Hana put Ms Menendez on the payroll of a company he controlled, prosecutors allege.

US Senator Bob Menendez arriving with his wife Nadine Menendez at Manhattan Federal Court, in New York City for his arraignment in March (AFP via Getty Images)
US Senator Bob Menendez arriving with his wife Nadine Menendez at Manhattan Federal Court, in New York City for his arraignment in March (AFP via Getty Images)

Prosecutors say Mr Menendez accepted luxury watches, a gold bar and cash from Mr Daibes “knowing” that he expected him to “induce the Qatari Investment Company to invest with Dabies” on the real-estate developer’s residential skyscraper project in Edgewater, New Jersey.

In the case of the third businessman, Mr Uribe, it is alleged that Mr Uribe arranged for the Menendezes to receive payments for his wife’s luxury Mercedez-Benz in exchange for the senator’s political influence over an insurance fraud investigation.

Authorities say they seized $100,000 in gold bars and more than $480,000 cash, mostly stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe at their home, according to a federal indictment. 

At the end of March, Mr Menendez announced that he would not seek re-election. However, he did not rule out the possibility of running as an independent candidate after his federal trial.

“Unfortunately the present accusations I am facing, of which I am innocent, and will prove so will not allow me to have that type of dialogue and debate with political opponents that have already made it the cornerstone of their campaign. New Jerseyans deserve better than that,” Mr Menendez said.

He later said: “I am hopeful that my exoneration will take place this summer and allow me to pursue my candidacy as an independent Democrat in the general election.”