POLITICS


Pro-Armenian Senator Robert Menendez indicted on corruption charges

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Washington, April 2, AZERTAC

Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants who rose to become one of the highest-ranking Hispanic members of Congress, was charged Wednesday with accepting nearly $1 million in gifts and campaign contributions from a longtime friend in exchange for a stream of political favors.

The indictment from a grand jury in Newark contains 14 counts — including bribery, conspiracy and false statements — against Menendez and also charges Melgen, a political donor to Menendez and other Democrats.

Menendez is scheduled to appear Thursday in federal court in Newark. Melgen's attorney did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

A federal grand jury indictment accuses the New Jersey Democrat of using the power of his Senate seat to benefit Dr. Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida eye doctor who prosecutors say provided the senator with luxury vacations, airline travel, golf trips and tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to a legal defense fund.

The indictment will almost certainly lead to a drawn-out legal fight between Menendez and a team of Justice Department prosecutors who have spent years investigating his ties to Melgen. It will require prosecutors to prove that a close and longtime friendship between the men was used for criminal purposes and is likely to revive the legal debate about the constitutional protections afforded to members of Congress for acts they take in office, which Menendez has already signaled as a possible line of defense.

The indictment marks the latest development in a federal investigation that came into public view when federal authorities raided Melgen's medical offices in 2013.

Menendez had already acknowledged that he had taken several round-trip flights to the Dominican Republic on Melgen's luxury jet that, initially, were not properly reimbursed. But the 68-page document spells out many additional gifts, such as a Paris hotel stay and access to a Dominican resort, that prosecutors say were never reported on financial disclosure forms.

In exchange for those and other gifts, prosecutors allege, Menendez sought to smooth approval of the visa application process for several of Melgen's foreign girlfriends, worked to protect a lucrative contract Melgen held to provide cargo screening services to the Dominican Republic and intervened in a Medicare billing dispute on the doctor's behalf worth millions of dollars.

In 2013, in an email exchange one day after Melgen and Menendez had golfed together in Florida, Menendez told his chief counsel to contact U.S. Customs and Border Protection in an effort to stop them from donating shipping container monitoring and surveillance equipment to the Dominican Republic, according to the indictment. Melgen had a contract to provide exclusive cargo screening in Dominican ports, and the CBP plan would have hurt his financial interests, prosecutors say.

Menendez is also the second New Jersey senator to be indicted. Harrison Williams Jr., a Democrat, was indicted in 1980 on corruption charges and convicted of bribery and other counts the following year. Williams resigned before the Senate could vote on whether to expel him.

Sen. Robert Menendez sits on the Armenian caucus in the US Congress and repeatedly supported the anti-Azerbaijani and anti-Turkish policy of his pro-Armenian colleagues. Being the senior member of the International Relations Committee of the US Senate, he made a lot of things for advance of interests of the Armenian lobby in the US, including non-constructive criticism towards Azerbaijan, suspension of Matthew Bryza's appointment to the post of the US Ambassador to Azerbaijan, and inappropriate charges to Turkey and Azerbaijan of "illegal blockade of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh". By the end of the working day on April 1, Menendez already declared resignation from his position of the senior member of the International Relations Committee of the US Senate.

At the end of last year, charge under 20 articles, including evasion of taxes, fraud and pseudo-witnessing was brought to one more pro-Armenian congressman Michael Grimm.

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