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Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | Back issues
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Menendez bribery trial witness details Egyptian halal beef monopoly scheme

Federal prosecutors say a New Jersey businessman paid tens of thousands of dollars to the wife of Senator Bob Menendez after he was granted a monopoly of certifications of halal meat imported into Egypt from the United States.

MANHATTAN (CN) — A scheme to control Islamic certification of U.S. meat imported to Egypt took the spotlight on Friday at Senator Bob Menendez’s bribery and corruption trial in New York federal court.

Menendez, the highest-ranking Latino in Congress, is standing trial in the Southern District of New York on federal bribery and corruption charges. Federal prosecutors say the 70-year-old New Jersey Democrat was involved in a five-year conspiracy to accept gold bars, luxury items and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in exchange for official political favors for friends linked to the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

Witness testimony on Friday focused on one particular scheme in which Menendez’s co-defendant Wael Hana, an Egyptian-American businessman from the Garden State, is accused of paying bribes to the senator through his wife, Nadine, in exchange for helping him lock down a lucrative monopoly on certification of halal meat imported into Egypt.

According the criminal indictment, Hana only secured the monopoly contract after Menendez called a high-level U.S. Department of Agriculture official and insisted that agency stop opposing Hana’s company, IS EG Halal’s status as sole halal certifier.

Bret Tate, a former "agricultural attaché" at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, explained that 70% of U.S. beef livers are exported to Egypt, where the cheap cut of meat is often served fried in sandwiches with onions and sliced green peppers.

Beef liver, he noted, is less popular in the United States, where unsold surplus livers are often rendered and sold as pet food.

Tate testified that in 2019, the government of Egypt awarded Hana’s New Jersey-based firm, IS EG Halal Certified, a lucrative monopoly to certify that meat imported to Egypt had been prepared in compliance to Islamic dietary laws.

He said the cost of certifying a container the size of an 18-wheel truck carrying 23 tons of meat spiked significantly from “pennies per pound”  — roughly between $200 and $400 per shipping container — after Hana’s company gained its monopoly.

Prior to that change in 2019, four U.S. companies had divided the certification work, he said.

Tate said middlemen in the meat trade would initially absorb the rising costs of certifying halal-certified imports but the margin would get passed onto Egyptian grocers and consumers.

Tate said Hana’s ties to Egyptian government officials raised concerns with the U.S. government agencies who referred the case to the FBI for further investigation.

Tate also testified that the Department of Agriculture was apprehensive about IS EG Halal being short-staffed for level of meat processing that would require halal certification.

IS EG Halal's monopoly was "bad for U.S. companies, bad for Egyptian consumers," and could potentially disrupt bilateral food trade between the United States and Egypt, Tate said.

According to federal prosecutors in the indictment, Hana secured the single company control of certifying halal meat imports into Egypt despite the fact that neither Hana nor his company had experience with halal certification.

Prosecutors say once the company was granted the lucrative monopoly, Hana gave Menendez's wife, Nadine Menendez, a “no-show job” that paid out tens of thousands dollars to a shell company, Strategic International Business Consultants LLC, which prosecutors say she formed solely to receive bribe payments.

“Every time I’m in a middle person for a deal, I am asking to get paid and this is my consulting company,” Nadine was quoted in the indictment as texting a relative about the shell company.

Prosecutors say Hana’s company later paid $23,000 to prevent Nadine’s mortgage from foreclosure.

During the defense's opening arguments on Thursday, Hana's lawyer said U.S. officials had no involvement in the monopoly on certifying meat coming into Egypt.

The Egyptian government made that decision, attorney Lawrence Lustberg said, and they were eager at the time to oust Muslim Brotherhood loyalists and replace them with Hana, an adherent of the Egyptian Coptic Christian religious minority.

Nadine Menendez, 58, was severed from her co-defendants’ May trial due to then-undisclosed health issues and will face a separate trial this summer.

On Thursday, Senator Menendez issued a statement disclosing that Nadine had been diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer requiring mastectomy surgery.

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Categories / Criminal, Politics, Trials

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