Senator Menendez's wife of three years at center of bribery allegations

FILE PHOTO: State Dinner in honor of French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House in Washington
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By Tom Hals and Luc Cohen

(Reuters) - Three years ago, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez announced that after months of COVID-19 turmoil, he had married Nadine Arslanian in a socially distanced ceremony that he called a "lovely & joyous day we will never forget."

What he didn't say was that for the two prior years the woman who was then his girlfriend was often by his side when he met with Egyptian officials to discuss sensitive topics including sales of U.S. military equipment.

Now he is facing federal felony charges alongside his wife since 2020, who plays a starring role in the conspiracy indictment for arranging and attending meetings at which business executives and foreign officials sought to curry favor from Menendez.

The senator said prosecutors had misrepresented the facts and mischaracterized routine legislative work. A lawyer for Arslanian, who also goes by Nadine Menendez, said she denied wrongdoing and would "vigorously defend" against the allegations in court.

Arslanian, 56, reportedly met Menendez, 69, at an IHOP pancake restaurant, which the senator has praised as a favorite dining spot. The pair began dating in 2018, according to the indictment, which said she was unemployed at the time.

In 2019, Menendez proposed to her at the Taj Mahal in India, presenting Arslanian with a ring while serenading her with "Never Enough" from musical film "The Greatest Showman."

Soon after she met Menendez, Arslanian worked with businessman Wael Hana to introduce the senator, the powerful chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, to Egyptian officials, the indictment said.

She was alongside Menendez when he met with Egyptian officials at his Senate office in March 2108, according to the indictment, one of multiple meetings she would attend.

In May of that year, Menendez sought sensitive information from the U.S. State Department regarding personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and texted it to Arslanian. She then forwarded it to Egyptian officials, according to the indictment.

In return for Menendez's promise to help Egypt benefit from U.S. military sales, Hana rewarded Arslanian with a no-show job at his company and $23,000 to get her home out of foreclosure proceedings, the indictment said.

In June of 2022, officials searched the apartment Menendez and Arslanian shared in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, and found more than $100,000 in gold bars and $480,000 in cash. Arslanian's safe deposit box contained another $70,000.

Arslanian, a registered Republican, according to voting records, is accused of setting up a company called Strategic International Business Consultants with Menendez's help to receive bribery payments.

She would tell an unidentified relative, according to the indictment: "Every time I'm a middle person for a deal, I am asking to get paid and this is my consulting company."

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware and Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis)