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Senator Bob Menendez's defense blamed his wife for bribes in opening statements

"He didn't know about the dealings Nadine had," said his attorney, Avi Weitzman.

La defensa del senador Bob Menéndez culpó a su esposa de los sobornos en los alegatos iniciales

El senador demócrata Bob Menéndez, acusado de corrupción y de fungir como agente extranjero. (AFP)

During opening statements in the trial against Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), accused of corruption and serving as a foreign agent, the defense attempted to blame his wife, Nadine Menendez, for receiving the alleged bribes behind the Democratic legislator's back.

Avi Weitzman, the Democratic senator's lawyer, assured that Nadine and her husband maintained separate lives and that the long-serving legislator was never aware of his partner's financial life.

"He didn't know about the dealings Nadine had," Weitzman said of Menendez. "You can't just assume that Bob knows about them."

The defense attorney repeatedly insisted on his client's innocence: "He did not violate the law, period, and the allegations by the United States Attorney's Office are wrong, dead wrong," lawyer said. "He did not ask for bribes. He did not get any bribes."

The defense also argued that "the government has been investigating this case for years" and never found evidence to show that the Democratic senator accepted a bribe.

However, the prosecution gave its version, completely opposite, ensuring that Menendez, 70, used his wife Nadine as an intermediary to access luxurious bribes (gold bars, cash, luxury cars or mortgage payments) in exchange for political favors.

"He was powerful. He was also corrupt," prosecutor Lara Pomerantz said of the senator during her opening remarks.

"In the United States of America, leaders are expected to put their country first, to put the interests of the people they serve above their own. This case is about a public official who put greed first."

"This is Robert Menendez, a United States senator from New Jersey, and he was entrusted to make big decisions, including decisions that affect this country's national security," Pomerantz stated bluntly. "Robert Menendez was a United States senator on the take, motivated by greed, focused on how much money he could put in his own pocket and in his wife's pocket. That is why you're here today. That is what this trial is all about."

"This was not politics as usual. This was politics for profit," the prosecutor insisted. "The FBI found gold bars and over $400,000 in cash in Menendez's home, in a safe, in jacket pockets, in shoes, all over the house."

However, the defense said in its arguments that part of the bribes were found in Nadine's closet, in a clear attempt to separate Menendez from the gold.

"The gold bars were found in a closet that is a locked closet. It is Nadine's closet," the defense attorney said. "He did not know of the gold bars that existed in that closet."

In total, Menendez pleaded not guilty to 16 federal charges, including bribery, fraud, acting as a foreign agent and obstruction of justice. According to prosecutors, three New Jersey businessmen, all of them accused in the same plot, along with the governments of Egypt and Qatar, were the alleged actors who sought to benefit from the Democrat's political position.

The Democratic senator, of Cuban-American origin, is the first sitting member of Congress to be accused of conspiracy as a public official who acted as a foreign agent.