Arnon Grunberg



On the Rolexes, Menendez and Mr. Hana – Nicole Hong, Tracey Tully and William K. Rashbaum:

‘Just five years ago, Wael Hana was reeling from a string of bad business deals in New Jersey, having tried to launch a truck stop, an Italian restaurant, a limousine service and other companies without ever hitting it big.
Then, his friend started dating Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, one of the most powerful Democrats in the United States Senate. Soon, Mr. Hana introduced Mr. Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to a growing circle of Egyptian officials, and Mr. Hana’s fortunes took a remarkable turn: He won sole control over certifying all halal food being imported into Egypt, earning enough money to bribe Mr. Menendez with gold bars and wads of cash, prosecutors said.
Mr. Hana, Mr. Menendez and others are now facing charges in what prosecutors have described as a wide-ranging corruption scheme — one that threatens to put an end to the senator’s five decades in politics. But the allegations, if true, also raise a pressing question about Mr. Hana: Was he an agent of the Egyptian government all along, or just a lucky opportunist who stumbled into a position of international influence?’


‘However, Mr. Hana, 40, was not charged with that offense. In the indictment unsealed this September, prosecutors said he was the broker who helped to orchestrate an agreement for Mr. Menendez to steer more American aid and weapons to Egypt. Mr. Menendez is also accused of sending sensitive information about U.S. Embassy employees in Cairo to his wife, who forwarded it to Mr. Hana, who sent it on to an Egyptian government official.
In return, prosecutors said, Mr. Hana and his circle of business associates showered the Menendezes with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and gold bars, and bribes that included a mortgage payment for Ms. Menendez, a “low-or-no-show” job for her at Mr. Hana’s halal company and a new Mercedes-Benz convertible.’


‘Mr. Hana was 22 when he arrived in the United States through the visa lottery system in 2006, a few years after the death of his father, according to a person familiar with Mr. Hana’s background. He started working for a cleaning company and enrolled in English language classes at a community college, the person said.
Right away, he showed an entrepreneurial hustle, creating a trucking business called Elmanhry LLC — the first in a long list of businesses that would appear under his name.
He bought a home in Bayonne, N.J., for $450,000 from a seller who attended the same Egyptian church as he did, the seller said. He appeared to buy the home without a down payment, securing a mortgage for the full purchase price, property records show.
By 2011, Mr. Hana had moved on to the luxury car business, and he approached a Chinese businessman with a proposal. Mr. Hana would negotiate with Porsche and Mercedes-Benz dealerships in New Jersey to purchase new cars on behalf of the businessman, who would then sell them to customers in China. They hashed out the details over dinner at a seafood restaurant in Flushing, Queens, according to court records.
But after the businessman’s company, Bosto New York, wired $3.6 million to Mr. Hana and his partners, they provided only $2.9 million worth of cars, the businessman said in a lawsuit filed in 2012.
Bosto New York won a judgment against Mr. Hana and his partners for the missing $705,000, but Mr. Hana never appeared in court or paid off what he owed, records show.’


‘Mr. Hana’s efforts came as Egyptian officials were aggressively lobbying members of Congress to lift restrictions on the aid, which lawmakers imposed in response to the government’s poor human rights record. Officials in Cairo viewed the restrictions as an affront to a nation that has been a partner to the United States on counterterrorism, trade and regional security for years.
Mr. Hana’s connections paid off handsomely in the spring of 2019.
The Egyptian government abruptly awarded his company, IS EG Halal, the exclusive right to certify all American food imported into Egypt as halal, prosecutors said.
The decision caused concern throughout the industry. Mr. Hana, a Christian, had no experience in halal certification. By his own admission, the company was not even operating until it was awarded the monopoly.
In a court filing in 2020, Mr. Hana explained that he won the approval because the Egyptian government wanted to take any halal certification power away from the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement that Egypt has vilified as a terrorist group, to deprive it of financial resources.
Because he had no expertise in Islamic law, Mr. Hana wrote, the Egyptian government provided him with imams and veterinarians to train him.
Before securing the monopoly, Mr. Hana wrote, he had another company that was already shipping goods into Egypt on the government’s behalf, taking bid requests from the Egyptian Ministry of Defense’s office in Washington. Mr. Hana said he was also in the process of starting another company that would handle the shipping of everything sold by the U.S. Army to Egypt.’


‘Federal agents also discovered that Mr. Hana’s cellphone contained thousands of text messages with Ms. Menendez, prosecutors later said.
After a few months, with no criminal charges in sight, Mr. Hana asked the prosecutors to return his belongings. Among the seized items were a chain he bought in Italy, two Rolex watches that he said were gifts and a pair of earrings he said he designed for his mother that were worth about $15,000.
“I do not understand why the government would take my jewelry, which I would like to wear,” he wrote in a court filing. It was unclear whether he got his jewelry back.’


‘Last year, Mr. Hana made a memorable impression on one former Western diplomat in Cairo. The diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Hana was an hour late to their lunch with no explanation or apology. They discussed the halal certification process, and Mr. Hana mentioned countries that were complaining about the prices he was charging.
The diplomat thought Mr. Hana was such a character that he wrote about it in his diary: He was “wearing an absurdly expensive suit, gold Rolex, gold rings. Spoke confidently, but softly, so you had to really listen.” “In our second lunch,” he added, “he spent about twenty minutes telling me about his Rolex collection.” After he was indicted, it was a decidedly less flashy Mr. Hana who appeared before a judge in Federal District Court in Manhattan this past week, dressed in a baggy blue shirt and slacks.
He was released the same day after securing a $5 million bond — and agreeing to wear a GPS monitoring device.’

Read the article here.

I would say a combination, a lucky and then not so lucky opportunist who became an Egyptian agent. A Christian who decided what is Halal and what’s not so Halal. An operator who appeared to have loved his Rolexes a bit too much.

A diplomat with a diary is also a detail that caught my attention. A diplomat with literary ambitions?

And then Menendez and his wife, two other operators.

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