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U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar charged with taking nearly $600,000 in bribes

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Henry Cuellar at a press conference

U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar, a long-serving Democrat from Texas, was charged Friday over allegations he accepted nearly $600,000 in bribes to influence foreign policy in favor of Azerbaijan and a Mexican bank.

According to prosecutors, the 68-year-old congressman and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, used sham consulting contracts to accept roughly $600,000 in bribes from an Azerbaijani oil and gas company and a Mexican bank between 2014 and 2021.

“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,” the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.

In exchange for the bribes paid by the oil and gas company, Cuellar agreed to use his position in Congress to influence U.S. foreign policy in favor of Azerbaijan, according to prosecutors. Similarly, he allegedly agreed to influence legislative activity and to pressure high-ranking U.S. officials regarding measures beneficial to the Mexican bank.

Cuellar denied the allegations in a statement and defended his record.

“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. “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 and his wife are facing 14 charges, including bribery of a federal official, conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and money laundering. If convicted on all counts, they could both face a maximum sentence of more than 200 years in prison.

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