After being strafed by the Egyptian military in 2015, American roller skater April Corley went to Congress.
Direct appeals to the Egyptian government for compensation for her injuries — including a multi-hundred thousand dollar medevac — hadn’t worked, she has said publicly. And so, she started to apply pressure via the $1.3 billion annual stipend that the U.S. grants Cairo each year.
TPM first reported last month that Corley’s case was at the center of alleged efforts by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to act in support of the Egyptian government, in this case by working in secret to undo a hold on $300 million in aid to Cairo which had been conditioned on the resolution of Corley’s case.
Per a superseding indictment unsealed on Thursday, prosecutors have gone beyond alleging only that Menendez committed bribery via his actions. Now, prosecutors allege that Menendez was conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Egyptian government as part of his work to remove congressional focus on Corley’s case.
Tim Rieser, a longtime aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) who worked on Corley’s case, told TPM last month that the allegations were “disturbing,” and that he and Leahy “never had any idea.”
The new charge suggests that Corley’s case stood at the center of an elaborate quid pro quo.
Menendez’s alleged secret efforts to release Congress’ hold on aid over the Corley case stood on one end. On the other, allegedly, was access to tens of thousands of dollars unlocked via a corrupt meat scheme involving the Egyptian government.
The money, prosecutors said, was to reach Menendez via a no-show job his wife, Nadine Arslanian, had with a New Jersey halal export company called ISEG Halal.
Arslanian allegedly complained to ISEG Halal owner and purported Egyptian government middleman Wael Hana that she wasn’t getting paid via the firm in exchange for her efforts. So, prosecutors said, Hana worked to have ISEG Halal make money by receiving an import monopoly from the Egyptian government on halal meat from the U.S.
But in May 2019, prosecutors said, events came to a head. The Egyptian government granted ISEG Halal its monopoly on May 1.
That provoked consternation within the U.S. government. Per a report issued by the USDA on May 13, halal certification costs would go up from $20 per metric ton to $220.
Andy Aslanian, a New Jersey attorney who the USDA said in the report helped incorporate the company, told me that he did so to Hana as a personal favor along with other legal representation he had provided.
“I do a lot of favors for a lot of people,” Aslanian told TPM, saying that Hana had awarded him stock in ISEG Halal in exchange for legal work that he had performed for Hana over the years. The FBI interviewed Aslanian as part of its Menendez probe last year, he said.
Aslanian has the odd position of knowing all the defendants in the case personally, and said that he had done various kinds of legal work for the three New Jersey businessmen charged in the matter: Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes. Aslanian told TPM that he had once traveled to Egypt with Hana, where officials “all knew him.”
“This notion that it was Menedez that put it all together, that’s bullshit,” Aslanian said. He added that he no longer held the stock in ISEG Halal.
“I didn’t want to get involved in the business,” he said.
On May 21, a little bit more than one week after the USDA issued its report on ISEG Halal, Menendez allegedly held a meeting at his office.
There, he met with his wife, an unnamed Egyptian intelligence official, and Wael Hana.
The group allegedly discussed an incident matching the details of Corley’s case. They also purportedly talked about “objections” from members of Congress to transferring military aid to Egypt absent “fair compensation.”
Menendez allegedly googled Corley’s name after the meeting, and then purportedly edited a letter that Egyptian officials intended to send to Congress that month seeking a release of the aid which had been frozen over the Corley case.
One week after the meeting, the Egyptian official present allegedly texted Hana that if Menendez helped resolve the Corley matter, the senator would “sit very comfortably.”
“Orders, consider it done,” Hana replied, per the indictment.
The meeting also featured a discussion of how Menendez allegedly stood to benefit: ISEG Halal. Prosecutors said that Hana asked Menendez to “counter the USDA’s objections.” That night, the group dined at a D.C. steakhouse where Arslanian allegedly told the group “what else can the love of my life do for you?”
Two days later, Menendez allegedly called an unnamed USDA official and demanded that the agency stop opposing ISEG Halal.
Menendez, Arslanian, Hana, and the other two defendants in the case have all pleaded not guilty.
As of this writing, there’s no public indication that Corley’s case has been resolved.
“April is an American citizen whose life was practically destroyed, using attack helicopters and missiles manufactured and supplied by the United States,” Rieser, the former Leahy staffer, told TPM. “But our government did not use the leverage Congress provided to obtain fair compensation for April.”