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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Menéndez faces a new accusation: Aiding the Qatari government

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) arrives at Federal District court in Manhattan, Oct. 23, 2023. Menendez — already accused of using his political influence to benefit Egypt — was newly charged on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024, with using his power to help the government of Qatar. (Jefferson Siegel/The New York Times)

By Tracey Tully, Benjamin Weiser and Nicholas Fandos

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. — already accused of using his political influence to benefit Egypt — was newly charged earlier this week with using his power to help the government of Qatar.

Federal prosecutors in New York City said that Menendez exploited his Senate office to aid a prominent New Jersey developer in securing financial backing from an investment fund run by a Qatari sheikh in exchange for lucrative bribes. The alleged payoffs included cash, gold bars, Formula One tickets for a relative and an offer of a designer watch.

Prosecutors said the developer, Fred Daibes, “also expected Menendez in exchange to take action to benefit the government of Qatar, and thereby benefit Daibes, who was seeking millions of dollars in investment from a fund with ties to the government of Qatar.”

The updated indictment broadens the government’s allegations that Menendez, 70, who was the influential head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time, used his official position to convey benefits to foreign governments in return for bricks of gold and tens of thousands of dollars in bribes. In October, prosecutors accused Menendez; his wife, Nadine Menendez; and another defendant, Wael Hana, of conspiring to have the senator work on behalf of the Egyptian government without registering with the Justice Department.

Adam Fee, a lawyer for Menendez, said Tuesday that the government’s new allegations “stink of desperation.”

“Despite what they’ve touted in press releases, the government does not have the proof to back up any of the old or new allegations against Sen. Menendez,” Fee said. “What they have instead is a string of baseless assumptions and bizarre conjectures based on routine, lawful contacts between a senator and his constituents or foreign officials. They are turning this into a persecution, not a prosecution.”

“At all times,” he added, “Sen. Menendez acted entirely appropriately with respect to Qatar, Egypt and the many other countries he routinely interacts with.”

Daibes’ lawyer, Tim Donohue, said he had no comment. Nadine Menendez’s lawyers did not respond to a request for comment. Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, declined through a spokesperson to comment on the new indictment.

Menendez stepped down from his Foreign Relations Committee post after he was first indicted in September, but he has resisted calls that he resign from the Senate and has not ruled out running for reelection. He and his co-defendants have all pleaded not guilty, and they are scheduled for trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan in May.

The new accusations are certain to renew scrutiny not just of Menendez but also of Qatar. Investigators in Europe and the United States have spent years trying to combat sophisticated influence operations by wealthy Persian Gulf nations, including Qatar, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Belgian authorities charged a European Parliament official in 2022 as part of a sweeping investigation into Qatari bribes. U.S. prosecutors have accused the wealthy Arab nation of bribing FIFA officials to host the 2022 World Cup, which the senator attended. (Daibes was also in Qatar during the games, court records show, but it was unclear if he attended any matches.) And just last year, the Justice Department scrutinized but ultimately decided not to charge a retired four-star Marine general who it suspected was secretly lobbying for the nation.

Daibes had been planning a major high-rise residential project at 115 River Road in Edgewater, New Jersey, but the project lost its financing after getting bogged down in a delayed environmental cleanup, court records show.

Prosecutors said it was Menendez who helped craft a solution.

In June 2021, the senator introduced Daibes to an investor who was a member of the Qatari royal family and the principal of the Qatari Investment Co., the indictment said.

In late 2022, Daibes — who at the time was facing unrelated federal bank fraud charges in New Jersey — got permission to travel to London and Qatar to meet with the potential new lenders, who had signed a letter of intent to enter into a joint venture with a company controlled by Daibes.

Then, in January 2023, he finalized a $45 million shared-ownership agreement for the Edgewater project with a company founded by the member of Qatar’s royal family, Bergen County deed records show.

A spokesperson for the company, Heritage Advisors, could not be immediately reached for comment.

The new allegations against Menendez claim that during the period when the financial deal with the Qatari-linked fund was under discussion, the senator “made multiple public statements supporting the government of Qatar.”

Menendez also provided Daibes with these statements so that the developer could “share them with the Qatari investor and a Qatari government official associated with the Qatari Investment Company,” prosecutors said.

In September 2021, Menendez and Daibes attended a private event in Manhattan held by the Qatari government. A few days later, Daibes sent Menendez photographs of wristwatches with prices ranging from $9,990 to $23,990. “How about one of these,” Daibes wrote, prosecutors said.

Within days, Daibes sent Menendez a link to a website that tracked a Senate resolution supportive of Qatar that had been introduced a day earlier and referred to the Foreign Relations Committee.

The new indictment also suggests for the first time that the senator and his wife took steps to try to cover up other bribes they are accused of taking after federal agents raided the couple’s New Jersey house in 2022.

Specifically, prosecutors said that in December 2022 the Menendezes attempted to repay tens of thousands of dollars worth of bribes that had come in the forms of payments for a home mortgage and toward a Mercedes-Benz convertible. In both cases, the couple created documentation describing the original bribes as loans they were repaying, the indictment said.

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