Sen. Bob Menendez grills Treasury official on curbing illicit finance a month before bribery trial

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., at center right, and his wife, Nadine Menendez, center rear, leave Manhattan Federal Court in New York City following his arraignment, March 11, 2024.

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Sen. Bob Menendez questioned a Treasury Department official Tuesday on curbing illegal finance as he prepares to stand trial in a month with his wife and two other men on federal bribery charges.

“I’m concerned about the exploitation of our litigation finance industry by foreign actors,” the New Jersey Democrat told Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo at a Senate Banking Committee hearing.

Menendez cited a Bloomberg Law report that showed Russian billionaires with ties to President Vladimir Putin funded bankruptcy lawsuits in New York despite being sanctioned following the invasion of Ukraine.

Menendez also slammed the Biden administration for not stopping Iran under current sanctions from selling its oil to entities in countries including China.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that you can convert those dollars into cryptocurrency and other forms in order to ultimately have access to them,” Menendez said.

Adeyemo said it is almost impossible for Iran to get access to the money from oil it sells using the traditional financial system.

However, he said Congress needs to act so bad actors cannot circumvent sanctions by using cryptocurrencies.

“We fear that without congressional action to provide us with necessary tools, the use of virtual assets by these actors will only grow,” Adeyemo said in his opening remarks.

Republican senators on the committee attacked the Biden administration for its 2023 deal to unfreeze $6 billion of Tehran’s funds to be used for humanitarian assistance in exchange for the release of political prisoners in Iran.

“Iran is not our friend. Venezuela is not our friend, President Biden keeps giving them money to buy weapons to try to kill us,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.

Adeyemo said that the funds, which were blocked after Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel, have not been sent to Iran.

“None of that money has gone to Iran, and that money is not going to go directly to Iran,” Adeyemo said.

Menendez is set to begin trial May 6 on nearly 20 criminal counts related to allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gold bars, and other luxury goods in return for helping three businessmen in their dealings. He has pleaded not guilty.

His wife, Nadine Menendez, and two of the businessmen, Wael Hana and Fred Daibes, will be tried with him.

The fifth defendant in the case, Jose Uribe, previously pleaded guilty and agreed to assist prosecutors.

The senator is accused of, among other things, providing sensitive U.S. government information that secretly aided the government of Egypt, and pressuring a U.S. Department of Agriculture official to protect a business monopoly in Egypt.

Menendez was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until he was indicted in September.

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