One of the Senate’s most powerful lawmakers, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey, forcefully denied new allegations that he’d improperly gone to bat for a pair of Ecuadorian bankers accused of embezzling money as their bank imploded.
It was not the first time the chairman was forced to stamp out rumors of a federal investigation into his actions. During his press briefing in New Jersey, Menendez referenced past allegations of misconduct and criticized the media for relying on anonymous sourcing.
"A year after a false smear campaign was launched against me, once again we see anonymous sources," Menendez said. "I wish we had these sources quoted. We seem to have gone to a journalistic level where just anonymous sources brings everyone to a conclusion about these ridiculous allegations."
The allegations against the senator stem from an NBC 4 New York investigation into his ties with William and Roberto Isaias, brothers convicted in absentia for embezzling millions from Filanbanco, an Ecuadorian bank. According to the report, the Justice Department is looking into Menendez’s efforts to help the fugitive bankers avoid extradition to Ecuador.
In the mid-90s, the Isaias brothers ran Ecuador’s largest bank. They were sued in 2009 by Quito for allegedly embezzling funds and moving them to Florida where they live. The attorney for the brothers, Xavier Castro Munoz, denied the accusations and identified his clients as victims of political persecution. Menendez’s office reportedly made calls and letters to federal agencies on their behalf, actions Menendez defended on Friday.
"In this particular case my office made standard inquiries on behalf of the Isaias family because we have every reason to believe they have been victims of political persecution in their native country of Ecuador," he said, "including specifically confiscation of media outlets that they own, which were critical of the government.
Federal investigators are also examining Menendez’s relationship with Salomon Melgen, a campaign donor and Florida ophthalmologist. Last year, he denied allegations that he improperly assisted Melgen by intervening in a Medicare-billing dispute and working to revive a dormant port security contract in the Dominican Republic.
Beyond that, he was also subjected to spurious prostitution allegations in the Dominican Republic produced by the conservative news site, The Daily Caller. Those insinuations collapsed under the weight of media scrutiny.
A spokesman for Menendez disputed that the chairman’s tenure has been marked by controversy and highlighted the committee’s central role in high-profile foreign policy issues like helping the Obama administration build support for potential military strikes against the government of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad after the dictator used chemical weapons against his own people. The spokesman also highlighted Menendez’s role in helping to renew the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and passing new embassy funding legislation.