US Senator Robert Menendez indicted on corruption charges

US Senator Robert Menendez (above) was indicted Wednesday on charges of public corruption, following a two-year federal investigation into his ties to a friend who contributed large sums to his re-election campaign. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
US Senator Robert Menendez (above) was indicted Wednesday on charges of public corruption, following a two-year federal investigation into his ties to a friend who contributed large sums to his re-election campaign. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Senator Robert Menendez was indicted Wednesday on charges of public corruption, following a two-year federal investigation into his ties to a friend who contributed large sums to his re-election campaign.

Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and lead author of legislation aimed at tightening sanctions against Iran, faces 14 charges including conspiracy and making false statements, and eight counts of bribery.

The charges are "in connection with a bribery scheme in which Menendez allegedly accepted gifts from (Florida ophthalmologist Salomon) Melgen in exchange for using the power of his Senate office to benefit Melgen's financial and personal interests," Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said.

Menendez, one of the most influential Hispanic American lawmakers in Congress, will address reporters at 7pm Wednesday (7am on Thursday Singapore time) in Newark, New Jersey, his office said. Congress is currently on a two-week break.

The senator had already staunchly defended himself in a media appearance on March 6, during which he insisted he had "conducted myself appropriately" and not broken the law.

"I am not going anywhere," he said at the time.

The 61-year-old lawmaker acknowledges he and Melgen have been close friends for more than two decades, celebrating holidays, family weddings, funerals and birthdays together.

Menendez was invited to Melgen's villa in the Dominican Republic on several occasions, and had to repay tens of thousands of dollars for several trips on the doctor's plane after admitting to a mixup with air fares from his 2012 re-election campaign.

Menendez is also accused of intervening in 2009 and 2012 with the agency that oversees the Medicare senior health program following a ruling that Melgen had overbilled the US government by nearly US$9 million (US$12 million), according to the Politico news website.