US senator vows he will be cleared in bribery case

A US senator charged in a bribery case has said his stashing of nearly half a million dollars cash at home stemmed from his Cuban parents’ fear that their savings might be seized by authorities.

Robert Menendez of New Jersey predicted he would be exonerated as he vowed to run for re-election next year.

Prosecutors say he and his wife accepted money, gold bars and a luxury car in exchange for political favours.

The senator has so far rejected calls from fellow Democrats to resign.

“When all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be New Jersey’s senior senator,” a defiant Mr Menendez told a news conference on Monday.

It was his first public appearance since he was indicted on Friday.

Speaking in Union City, New Jersey, he added: “Those who rushed to judgment, you have done so based on a limited set of facts framed by the prosecution to be as salacious as possible.”

Federal agents who searched his New Jersey home last year found more than $480,000 in cash (£393,000) stuffed into envelopes and hidden in jackets, closets and a safe, along with 13 bars of gold bullion. Another $70,000 was discovered inside his wife’s safety deposit box at a bank.

According to the indictment, Mr Menendez had searched online for “how much is one kilo of gold worth”.

But in Monday’s news conference he said: “I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba.

“Now this may seem old-fashioned, but these were monies drawn from my personal savings account based on the income that I have lawfully derived over those 30 years.”

Mr Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, suggested last week that the indictment – and calls for his resignation – came from those “rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat”.

The 39-page federal indictment accuses Mr Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez, of accepting bribes in exchange for the senator’s political influence at home and abroad on behalf of both the government of Egypt and business associates in New Jersey.

Investigators also said they found a luxury Mercedes-Benz paid for by a businessman parked in the Menendezes’ garage.

The charge-sheet said that after the couple received the car, Mrs Menendez texted her husband to say: “Congratulations mon amour de la vie, we are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes.”

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his wife Nadine Arslanian arrive for a reception

Senator Bob Menendez and his wife Nadine Arslanian each face three charges

In his remarks on Monday, Mr Menendez addressed his senatorial work related to Egypt, saying his record was clear in holding Cairo accountable on human rights.

This is not the first time that Mr Menendez – who has served in Congress since 2006 – has faced bribery charges.

In 2015 he was indicted in New Jersey on charges he had accepted bribes from a Florida eye doctor.

That case ended in a mistrial after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

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