The Department of Justice is looking for evidence that New Jersey’s senior U.S. Senator Bob Menendez illegally accepted luxury gifts in exchange for overseas government contracts and failed to report them to tax disclosure forms, NBC New York has learned.
The gifts, according to sources close to the investigation, include a Mercedes Benz sedan, jewelry, and a luxury apartment in Washington, D.C. The probe centers around a New Jersey-based businessman who in return for the gifts allegedly received a meat certification contract with the Egyptian government despite having no relationships in the country or experience to perform the work.
Menendez, a Democrat, chairs the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and would have the authority to marshal votes for such an arrangement. A spokesman for the senator’s office denied any wrongdoing on his part and said “Should there be any official inquiries, the senator is available to provide any assistance requested of him or his office.”
Sources say the investigation is being led by Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in partnership with the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigations unit. Investigators want to determine whether Menendez and his wife Nadine Arslanian accepted gifts from the owner of IS EG Halal, a home-state meat processor, and whether the senator took any action in return.
In addition to the possible quid pro quo, the IRS is exploring whether Senator Menendez failed to account for any gifts on his personal tax records. He has not listed any of the mentioned items on Senate disclosure forms.
In 2019, IS EG Halal was awarded an exclusive contract with the Egyptian government to certify Halal meat exports. The owner, who is Christian, was an unfamiliar choice for the Islamic nation which led to other contractors losing millions of dollars in revenue as the Egyptian government made way for the U.S.-approved partnership. Industry insiders were shocked at the choice, with one former USDA official saying it “defies logic.”
The FBI will center its portion of the investigation around whether IS EG Halal paid bribes to officials in Egypt to grease the skids for their business. For its part, the Edgewater, NY-based business has denied any wrongdoing and claimed it earned the contract on merit alone.