For Egypt, Menendez Was Key to Access to Billions in U.S. Aid

After decades as one of the world’s largest recipients of United States foreign aid, the Egyptian government was nervous about how long the largess would continue at that level. But when the United States cut a sliver of the aid in 2017 over Egypt’s grim human rights record, stunning Cairo, Egyptian officials found an ally in Senator Robert J. Menendez of New Jersey.

He happened to be the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a position that Egypt evidently felt could help its footing in Washington. And even as he accused the Trump administration of being lax when it came to Egypt, prosecutors say he was doing favors for Egyptian officials who had gotten to know him through his then-girlfriend — signing off on arms sales and secretly helping it lobby Washington to release funding.

In return, according to a federal indictment of Mr. Menendez unsealed on Friday, Mr. Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, checks and bars of gold.

It was a price that Egyptian officials clearly felt was worth paying.

Since the late 1970s, Washington has sent Cairo up to $1.3 billion each year as a legacy of Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel in the Camp David Accords — money that Egypt treasures as a sign of its strategic importance and which has paid for its ever-growing military arsenal.

For Egypt, the United States is an indispensable patron, one that it constantly tries to convince of its value on issues like terrorism, security for Israel and migration to Europe. Sitting in the southeastern Mediterranean on Israel’s western border, it paints itself as an island of stability in a turbulent region that includes Sudan and Libya.

Egypt’s government has declined to comment.

The indictment lists several instances in which Mr. Menendez is said to have told his wife that he intended to approve arms sales, information that she then passed on to a friend, Wael Hana, an Egyptian-American businessman in New Jersey who owned a company that certified halal meat, and who then passed that information to Egyptian officials.

Mr. Hana rewarded the Menendezes with cash, gold and other bribes, prosecutors say. The deals also helped enrich him, and served as a way for Cairo to get money to Mr. Menendez, according to the indictment.

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