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Feds lay out timeline of Egyptian bribery conspiracy in Menendez corruption trial

Prosecutors detailed text messages they say show the Democratic senator unfroze U.S. military aid to Egypt after dining at upscale restaurants in New York and Washington with Egyptian intelligence officials.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Federal prosecutors on Wednesday showed New York jurors a comprehensive battery of texts and e-mails from New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez and his wife to Egyptian businessmen and government officials as they arranged dinners at high-end restaurants to privately discuss the United States’ foreign military financing and weapons sales to Egypt.

Menendez, 70, is standing trial alongside two New Jersey businessmen — Edgewater real estate tycoon Fred Daibes and Egyptian-American entrepreneur Wael Hana — who prosecutors say paid him and his wife hundreds of thousands dollars in bribes, including gold bars and cash, over the last seven years in exchange for him using his powers as a U.S. senator to help them out.

All three have pleaded not guilty.

Menendez's wife, Nadine Menendez, has pleaded not guilty to charges she was involved in the scheme. After she received a breast cancer diagnosis, her trial was pushed back to July.

Another businessman, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty in the case and will testify against the others.

The corruption trial is now in its third week following a weeklong break around the Memorial Day holiday weekend.  

Menendez is accused in a superseding indictment of acting as a foreign agent on behalf of Egypt, in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires people to register with the U.S. government if they act as “an agent of a foreign principal.”  

As a member of Congress, he is prohibited from being an agent of a foreign government.

Text messages and WhatsApp chats entered into evidence on Wednesday laid out how Menendez’s then-girlfriend Nadine Menendez coordinated with her friend Hana to arrange a meeting for Menendez with Egyptian Maj. Gen. Khaled Ahmed Shawky Osman. They ate together at the upscale Chinese restaurant Mr. Chow’s in midtown Manhattan on July 25, 2018.

Prosecutors say that ahead of that dinner, Hana coordinated with Nadine Menendez to provide the senator briefing materials advocating Egyptian foreign policy goals and positions and setting forth the country's requests for military financing and sales.

One of the documents forwarded to Menendez was a PDF titled “White Paper” with the heading “Armament and training requirements from the U.S.”

According to prosecutors, Menendez and Hana discussed the United States’ provision of military aid to Egypt with the Egyptian government and intelligence officials at that dinner, with Hana convincing the senator to unfreeze millions of dollars of U.S. aid that had been paused due to human rights concerns.

The day after that dinner, July 26, 2018, Bob Menendez texted Nadine: “Tell Will [Hana] I am going to sign off this sale to Egypt today. Egypt: 46,000 120MM Target Practice Rounds and 10,000 Rounds Tank Ammunition: $99 million NOTE: These tank rounds are for tanks they have had for many years. They are using these in the Sinai for the counter-terrorism campaign.”

Prosecutors then showed Nadine Menendez’s WhatsApp message forwarding Menendez’s statement on the arms deal to Hana, who forwarded the message to the two Egyptian officials.

Shawky responded to Hana at 7:09 p.m. with the “thumbs-up emoji three times,” FBI Special Agent Michael F. Coughlin testified on Wednesday.

In the days after their New York City dinner, the men shared photographs of them standing together at Mr. Chow’s.

Another series of texts entered into evidence on Wednesday show that Menendez and Hana joined Egyptian top intelligence official Gen. Ahmed Helmy in downtown Washington for a dinner at the Morton’s steakhouse in February 2019.

Menendez made reservations, but Helmy insisted that the senator was his guest.

“OK, but he is my guest, make sure he is aware of this,” he texted Hana ahead of their meeting.

Again, the men shared group photographs from Morton’s in text messages following their dinner.

Shawky and Helmy were not initially named in the criminal indictment; instead they were identified as “Egyptian Official-1” and “Egyptian Official-3," respectively.

Hana stands accused of a scheme to pay bribes to the Democratic lawmaker and his wife in return for Menendez’s aid in protecting Hana's lucrative monopoly in 2019 on the certification of Halal meat imported into Egypt.

Prosecutors say in the criminal indictment that Hana maintained the the monopoly contract amid U.S. government scrutiny because Menendez called a high-level U.S. Department of Agriculture official and insisted the agency stop opposing Hana’s company, IS EG Halal, as sole halal certifier for Egypt-bound meat exports.

Other text messages displayed by prosecutors show that the deal came to fruition after Nadine Menendez's frustration with the New Jersey businessman and his slowness to pay her back for connecting him to the senator.

“It’s been a year of broken promises,” Nadine Menendez texted in March 2019, a year after she and Hana arranged the first meeting between Menendez and Shawky. “Very honestly I feel repeatedly used.”

“I have been so upset all morning,” she texted Menendez. “Will [Hana] left for Egypt yesterday supposedly and now thinks he’s king of the world and has both countries wrapped around his pinky. I really hope they replace him.”

Prosecutors accuse Daibes, a millionaire real estate developer from Edgewater, New Jersey, of delivering gold bars and cash to the Menendezes in exchange for the senator’s efforts to install sympathetic law enforcement officials in two criminal prosecutions in New Jersey. Daibes also faces accusations he paid bribes to Menendez to help him secure a multimillion-dollar deal with a Qatari investment fund by acting favorably to Qatar’s government.

Jurors saw text messages Wednesday indicating that Hana also referred Daibes and his successful New Jersey real estate company to Egyptian officials who wanted help purchasing properties in the Washington area to house Egyptian government employees.

According to those text messages, Daibes signaled his interest in managing an LLC that would buy and lease townhouses in exchange for favors from the Egyptian government, including help building a luxury resort near the Red Sea and his investment in a manufacturing export facility in Egypt.

Prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein that they are “slightly behind” schedule but are making adjustments to get the trial back on the original timeline of about seven weeks, or through the end of June.

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Categories / Criminal, Government, Politics, Trials

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