Sen. Bob Menendez, the hawkish chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is setting up a legal defense fund in connection with a federal criminal investigation into a corruption case.
Campaign finance records show that his campaign has already spent over $230,000 on lawyers this year two law firms and a document search company involved with responding to the case.
According to sources, Menendez is being investigated for using his position as the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee to help a Weehawken meat company win an exclusive contract with the Egyptian government.
Halal is a dietary law derived from Islamic teachings, meaning “lawful or permitted.”
An exclusive contract from the government of Egypt allows the company, IS EG Halal, to certify halal exports worldwide but sources said the business owners have given expensive gifts to Menendez’s Menendez’s wife, Nadine Arslanian, whom he married in 2020.
NBC News and other outlets have reported that dozens of federal grand jury subpoenas were issued in connection with the investigation, led by the U.S. attorney’s office for Southern New York. Wall Street Journal journalists Corinne Ramey and James Fanelli reported that Arslanian is drawing scrutiny in the federal probe.
The latest investigation began in 2019, when court records show federal investigators executed search warrants at the home and office of Wael Hana, the founder of IS EG Halal.
The Edgewater company was designated the only business allowed to certify halal meat being exported to Egypt.
Hana is an associate of Arslanian, according to the people familiar with the matter.
Prosecutors were investigating possible undisclosed foreign lobbying in the US and other potential violations of federal law, according to court documents filed in 2020 by Lawrence Lustberg, a lawyer for Hana, who was seeking the return of property seized by the government.
Prosecutors in recent months also subpoenaed New Jersey lawyer Antranig Aslanian, a longtime friend of Nadine Arslanian who has represented Wael Hana.
Antranig Aslanian said that when prosecutors questioned him about Arslanian, he told them that he had known her for 25 years and that they were both Armenian.
Arslanian has been identified as an international businesswoman who studied international politics at New York University.
Several sources also allege that the company’s owners have given expensive gifts to Menendez’s wife. The senator has denied any wrongdoing.
Investigators are looking into whether Menendez used his position to help the company get the exclusive contract with the government of Egypt.
The Halal industry is based on a belief that Muslims should consume goods that are “Halalan Toyyiban”, which is directly translated to permissible and wholesome.
That industry has now expanded beyond the food sector to include pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, health products, toiletries and medical devices as well as related services such as logistics, marketing, print and electronic media, packaging, branding, and financing.
The leading importers of Halal food in 2015 among Organization of Islamic Cooperation countries were Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and United Arab Emirates, with one of the most popular imported foods being meat.
Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Indonesia also have large Muslim populations that adhere to Islamic diet traditions.
State business records show Arslanian is the president of Strategic International Business Consultants LLC, a holding company that was incorporated in New Jersey in 2019. The senator’s financial disclosure forms showed she worked for Fusion Diagnostics Laboratories, a New Jersey medical testing company. She worked for a short time in sales and marketing, Fusion’s chief executive, Moataz Abdalla, said.
In the 2015 public-corruption case against Menendez, federal prosecutors alleged he accepted about $1 million in gifts—including flights on a private jet and vacations—from a Florida ophthalmologist who was convicted in the biggest Medicare fraud case in history.
When Menendez was facing legal trouble before, he raised more than $5.1 million for a legal defense fund whose greatest single contributor was Philip R. Sellinger, who is now the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey.
Roselle Park Mayor Joe Signorello said he is running for U.S. Senate in 2024 because “Bob Menendez is an embarrassment to the people of the state of New Jersey.”
“While Senator Bob Menendez fundraises to pay lawyers, researchers, and god-knows who else to keep him out of jail and shielded from an ongoing federal corruption investigation – our grassroots campaign is talking with voters all across New Jersey about the issues that matter to them,” said Signorello. “Our elected officials have long had a love affair with bribery, criminal corruption, and corporate special interests. The working folks of New Jersey are the ones who suffer, lacking a representative in Washington who is focused on the issues and fighting for them.”
Menendez held up President Barack Obama’s nomination of Patty Shwartz to be a to the United States Third Circuit Appeals Court judge.
Kate Zernike, a national correspondent for The New York Times, speculated that it was because Shwartz had been in a relationship for more than two decades with the head of the federal prosecutor’s public corruption unit that unit investigated Menendez during his 2006 election campaign.
After a jury could not reach a verdict in 2017, the Trump administration’s Justice Department later dropped the charges.
Menendez was “severely admonished” by the Senate Ethics Committee over the gifts in April 2018, and progressive challenger Lisa McCormick earned 38 percent of the primary vote, but the Senator went on to win reelection over Republican Bob Hugin later that year by more than 11 points.
Menendez says he is confident that the current inquiry will be successfully closed, but he is setting up a separate legal defense fund to avoid draining any further campaign funds.
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