Bob ‘Gold Bars’ Menendez throws wife under the bus claiming she ‘hid’ bribes in opening statements

Embattled New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez will blame his wife for accepting gold bars, cash payments and hiding them from him, his defense lawyer suggested during opening statements at his bribery trial on Wednesday.

Mr Menendez, wife Nadine Menendez, and three New Jersey men Wael Hana, Fred Daibes and Jose Uribe were indicted in September 2023 over a scheme that allegedly saw the couple accept gold bars, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and payments for a Mercedes convertible in exchange for his political influence. The lawmaker’s actions ultimately benefitted the Egyptian and Qatari governments, according to prosecutors.

The Democrat, 70, faces 16 federal charges, including bribery, acting as a foreign agent, obstruction of justice and extortion. He has pleaded not guilty and denies all wrongdoing.

Menendez is on trial with Fred Daibes, a real estate developer, and businessman Wael Hana. They too have pleaded not guilty. Mr Uribe previously took a plea deal, while Ms Menendez will be tried separately later this year as she is recovering from a serious medical condition, according to court filings.

US Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, arrives at Manhattan Federal Court, in New York City on May 15, 2024 (AFP via Getty Images)

In a courtroom in downtown Manhattan on Wednesday, defense lawyer Avi Weitzman told the jury that the senator knew nothing of the gold bars and cash, which had been recovered from his New Jersey home by FBI agents in June 2022.

Mr Weitzman argued that it was Nadine Menendez who accepted the lavish bribes, hid them from her husband and then served as a messenger between the senator, his co-defendants and Egyptian officials.

He told jurors that Ms Menendez lives a relatively separate life from her husband and kept the gold bars locked in her closet.

He implored jurors to ask themselves “Where’s Bob?” while listening to evidence, and underlined his point by showing the jury an image of the comic book character fromWhere’s Waldo.

Senator Bob Menendez seen in court sketch sitting with his defense team during jury selection on Tuesday May 14 2024 at Manhattan federal court in New York (AP)

Mr Menendez sat quietly during Mr Weitzman’s remarks next to his other attorneys, co-defendants, and their lawyers. More than half of the courtroom was filled with legal clerks, paralegals and attorneys.

Mr Weitzman’s remarks followed federal prosecutor Lara Pomerantz who told jurors that Mr Menendez was “motivated by greed” and “put his power up for sale”.

She alleged that Mr Menendez had accepted bribes from Mr Daibes, Mr Hana and Uribe to help them secure deals with Qatari and Egyptian officials as well as intervene in criminal state and federal investigations.

The day concluded just before 5pm with the jury set to hear from Mr Daibes and Mr Hana’s lawyers on Thursday.

Nadine Menendez, left, appears with her husband Senator Bob Menendez in 2022 (AP)

The start of the trial comes after two days of slow jury selection. Multiple jurors asked to be excused citing nonrefundable travel plans and concerns over the high-profile nature of the case.

The judge has indicated that the trial could last six to seven weeks.

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