Opening statements set to kick off in New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez’s corruption trial

NEW YORK —The bribery trial of New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez is ready to start with opening statements Wednesday as prosecutors seek to convince a jury that the longtime powerful Democrat was willing to sell his influence to benefit three businessmen in return for cash, gold bars and a fancy car.

The three-term senator has insisted since his fall arrest that he is not guilty of charges that he used his influence to aid three New Jersey businessmen, including by providing favors to the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

Prosecutors say the men showered Menendez and his wife with gifts to ensure Menendez would help them.

Menendez, 70, is on trial in Manhattan federal court with two of the businessmen. A third has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the other defendants. Menendez’s wife is scheduled to be tried in July.

For the senator, the trial represents the second time he has been criminally charged in a federal court in the last decade.

In 2017, a federal jury deadlocked on corruption charges brought in New Jersey, and prosecutors did not seek to retry him.

Those charges were unrelated to the current prosecution of Menendez, who held the powerful post of chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before he was forced from the job after the new charges were revealed last fall.

Judge Sidney H. Stein said late Tuesday that he expected to have a jury in place by mid-morning on Wednesday, at the latest. Opening statements would start soon afterward.

Menendez is on trial with Fred Daibes, a New Jersey real estate developer, and businessman Wael Hana. All have have pleaded not guilty.

An indictment alleges that Daibes delivered gold bars and cash to Menendez and his wife to get the senator to help him secure a multimillion-dollar deal with a Qatari investment fund by acting in ways favorable to Qatar’s government.

The indictment also said Menendez did things benefitting Egyptian officials in exchange for bribes from Hana as the businessman secured a lucrative deal with the Egyptian government to certify that imported meat met Islamic dietary requirements.

Menendez has said he will not be seeking reelection on the Democratic ticket this fall, although he has not ruled out running as an independent.

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