Gold bars and steak houses: Inside Bob Menendez’s bribery trial


By Bernd Debusmann JrBBC News, Washington

grey placeholderGetty Images Bob Menendez leaving court on 10 June Getty Images

New Jersey senator Bob Menendez is accused of taking lavish bribes to help Qatari and Egyptian officials

After six weeks of testimony in a federal court in New York, the prosecution has rested its case in the corruption trial against US Senator Bob Menendez.

The New Jersey Democrat is accused of accepting bribes, including gold bars and a Mercedes-Benz, in exchange for helping foreign governments.

Mr Menendez – formerly the top-ranking Democrat on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee – has pleaded not guilty to all 18 charges he faces.

If convicted, the 70-year-old faces decades in prison and possible expulsion from the Democratic Party.

Lawyers for Mr Menendez have said they may call dozens of witnesses before resting their case.

Here’s a few highlights from the trial so far.

Gold bars and Formula One tickets

Prosecutors have so far used expert testimony, emails and Mr Menendez’s text messages to highlight what they claim is proof that the senator accepted lavish rewards from foreign governments.

An FBI agent, for example, testified that Mr Menendez’s internet search history showed that he repeatedly sought to determine the price of gold – including twice after a trip in which he and his wife Nadine had visited Egypt and Qatar.

The agent testified that two of the gold bars, which were later recovered, were traced back to gold owned by Fred Daibes, a real-estate developer who is now on trial with Mr Menendez.

An FBI search of Mr Menendez’s home uncovered gold bars worth over $100,000 (£78,800), in addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.

In opening statements, Mr Menendez’s lawyer claimed that the gold had been passed down by Mrs Menendez’s relatives in the Middle East.

Jurors were also shown a text message exchange in which Mr Menendez asked a Qatari official for tickets for Mrs Menendez’s son to attend the Formula One Grand Prix in Miami – which he eventually received.

“Thank you!! Mr Menendez wrote in response. “He is thrilled and so is his mother.”

At the time of the text message exchange, Mr Daibes was in talks to establish a business venture with a Qatari royal to whom Mr Menendez had introduced him.

grey placeholderGetty Images Nadine Menendez in October 2023Getty Images

Prosecutors have sought to portray Nadine Menendez as financially troubled and desperate for cash

Defence shifts blame to Mrs Menendez

In his opening statement, Mr Menendez’s lawyer Avi Weitzman sought to shift the blame on Mrs Menendez – who is facing her own, separate trial on bribery and corruption charges. She has pleaded not guilty.

Mr Weitzman portrayed the Lebanese-born Mrs Menendez as a financially troubled individual who hopes to “get cash and assets any way she could” to resolve her money woes.

“Let me say this about Nadine: Nadine had financial concerns that she kept from Bob,” Mr Weitzman said.

Additionally Mr Weitzman said that the pair often led separate lives, with Mr Menendez more focused on his duties to his constituents.

“The government’s allegations that the senator sold his office and his loyalty to his country are outrageously false,” he said. “Bob was doing his job, and he was doing it right.”

‘What else can the love of my life do for you?’

Earlier this month, jurors heard from two FBI investigators who testified that they surveilled Mr Menendez and his wife as they dined with three Egyptian men, including a government official, at Morton’s The Steakhouse, an upscale restaurant in Manhattan.

The two-hour surveillance operation in May 2019 included FBI investigators posing as a well-dressed married couple seated near the Menendez table, as well as concealed cameras.

One of the FBI agents, Terrie Williams-Thompson, testified that she overheard Mrs Menendez ask the group “what else can the love of my life do you for?”, in a reference to the senator.

Before the jury was seated, one of Mr Menendez’s lawyers, Adam Fee, told the judge in the case that “there is nothing unusual” about having dinner “with a diplomat or a friend”.

Mr Menendez, he added, dines at Morton’s approximately 250 nights of the year.



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