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Rep. Cuellar, wife indicted on bribery charges

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and his wife were indicted Friday on charges related to accepting nearly $600,000 in bribes and laundering the funds.

The indictment filed by the Justice Department details payments Cuellar allegedly accepted both from an oil company owned by the Azerbaijan government as well as a Mexican bank.

“The bribe payments were allegedly laundered, pursuant to sham consulting contracts, through a series of front companies and middlemen into shell companies owned by Imelda Cuellar, who performed little to no legitimate work under the contracts,” DOJ wrote in a press release announcing the indictment in the southern district of Texas.

“In exchange for the bribes paid by the Azerbaijani oil and gas company, Congressman Cuellar allegedly agreed to use his office to influence U.S. foreign policy in favor of Azerbaijan. In exchange for the bribes paid by the Mexican bank, Congressman Cuellar allegedly agreed to influence legislative activity and to advise and pressure high-ranking U.S. Executive Branch officials regarding measures beneficial to the bank.”

Cuellar denied he or his wife did anything wrong in a statement issued before the charges were unsealed. 

“I want to be clear that both my wife and I are innocent of these allegations. Everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas,” Cuellar said in a statement through his campaign.

“Before I took any action, I proactively sought legal advice from the House Ethics Committee, who gave me more than one written opinion, along with an additional opinion from a national law firm. The actions I took in Congress were consistent with the actions of many of my colleagues and in the interest of the American people.”

Cuellar, who is a co-chair of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus, will have to step down from his post as the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries’ (D-N.Y) office noted in a statement nodding to House rules.

“Henry Cuellar has admirably devoted his career to public service and is a valued Member of the House Democratic Caucus. Like any American, Congressman Cuellar is entitled to his day in court and the presumption of innocence throughout the legal process,” Jeffries spokeswoman Christie Stephenson said in the statement.

Cuellar also noted earlier Friday that he still plans to seek reelection.

The indictment makes Cuellar the second lawmaker in the last year to face bribery charges relating to a foreign government alongside his wife. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and his wife are facing trial for accepting bribes and taking action beneficial to the government of Egypt.

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