Senator Menendez – corruption charges and Hungarian friends

New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez was indicted on federal corruption charges.

A 61-year-old Democrat, Mr. Menendez was charged with eight counts of bribery, conspiracy, fraud, and making false statements on government documents. He is the first senator to face federal bribery charges since another New Jersey Democrat, Harrison Williams was indicted in 1980, almost a quarter century ago. Menendez has refused to resign saying “I always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law…. I am not going anywhere.”

As the famous Bob Dylan song says: “In Jersey anything’s legal as long as you don’t get caught.”

The case focuses on the Senator’s friendship with Dr. Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida eye surgeon and political benefactor. Prosecutors say Dr. Melgen lavished the senator with gifts, and Mr. Menendez helped to change the Medicare reimbursement policy in a way that would make millions for the good doctor. Dr. Melgen has also been indicted. The Senator claims the Medicare debate was a legitimate policy discussion, not a personal favor, and the gifts he received from Dr. Melgen should be reviewed in the context of their long friendship.

According to the Washington Post, Senator Menendez is not shy at all. When he took a personal trip to Paris to spend a weekend with a woman with whom he had a personal relationship, he requested a hotel room from Mr. Melgen with a “king bed, work area with internet, limestone bath with soaking tub and enclosed rain shower”, not even mentioning a view.

Many of us were surprised to learn that the Senator is also a close friend of ex-Hungarian Ambassador to Washington, Mr. György Szapáry, and he maintains relationships with prominent Hungarian politicians. The Obama administration and several high ranking Democrats have voiced strong criticism of the Orbán Government’s authoritarian policies, but in the Senator the Hungarians found an understanding Democrat. He has never criticized Mr. Orbán.

Mr. Balázs Fürjes (right) Hungarian Government Commissioner, Eugene F. Megyesy, Jr., Hungarian-American lawyer and advisor of Mr. Orbán, Ambassador Szapáry and Senator Menendez (left wearing striped tie) at the Rubik’s exhibition.

Mr. Balázs Fürjes (right) Hungarian Government Commissioner, Eugene F. Megyesy, Jr., Hungarian-American lawyer and advisor of Mr. Orbán, Ambassador Szapáry and Senator Menendez (left wearing striped tie) at the Rubik’s exhibition.

In 2012 Hungary made a secret deal to extradite the Azeri axe murderer Ramil Safarov, who received a hero’s welcome in Baku. Patrick Ventrell, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said that the US was “extremely troubled” by the case and would be seeking explanations from both Budapest and Baku.

Mr. Menendez issued a statement and placed the blame squarely on the president of Azerbaijan, Mr. Ilham Aliyev. In a half-sentence he mentioned that he was “troubled by Hungary’s decision to extradite Safarov”, then he blasted the Azeris with full force: “the blatant disregard for justice is unacceptable and I condemn Aliyev’s actions in the strongest way possible.” He called on Aliyev to apologize and for the international community to demand Safarov’s return to Hungary to complete his life sentence. He added: “It is clear that the Azeri government cannot be counted on to adhere to its international or bilateral obligations with respect to this matter.” In other words; case was closed, he never blamed the Hungarians for the dirty deal.

In 2012 Ambassador Szapáry organized a lavish gala in Washington to commemorate the 56th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Menendez was the only prominent Democrat to participate by recording a video message. Again, not a hint of criticism, just praises for foreign minister Mr. Martonyi and Ambassador Szapáry. (Watch the video here.)

No American politician talks to Mr. Áder since the World Affairs wrote about his “fascist sympathies”. In April 2014 Menendez warmly greeted Hungarian President Mr. János Áder at a Liberty Science Center’s exhibit, entitled Beyond Rubik’s Cube, marking the 40th Anniversary of the puzzle. (The World Affairs article about Mr. Áder…)

Senator Menendez (sitting) listening Hungarian President Mr. János Áder.

Senator Menendez (sitting) listening Hungarian President Mr. János Áder.

Mr. Menendez has greatly helped to ease the diplomatic isolation of the Orbán government in Washington. Ambassador Szapáry proudly bragged about the Senator’s “beautiful video message” in the Hungarian daily, Magyar Nemzet. It is disturbing that Hungary’s best friend in Congress today is a Senator accused of corruption and trading political favors for gifts.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said: “When they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer ‘Present’ or ‘Not Guilty’.” Mr. Menendez says he is not guilty, but has “temporarily” resigned from his leadership position in the Senate.

And Hungarian corruption is not a figment of imagination. Last October the State Department has banned several Hungarian officials from entering the US, they suspect that they were engaged in or benefiting from corruption. The Hungarian Government denies the charges, just like Senator Menendez does.

György Lázár

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