House Democrat Cuellar Charged With Taking Foreign Bribes

(Bloomberg) -- House Democrat Henry Cuellar of Texas and his wife were indicted for allegedly accepting approximately $600,000 in foreign bribes.

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Cuellar denied the charge. He and his wife, Imelda, made their initial court appearance Friday before a federal judge in Houston, the Justice Department said in a statement announcing the indictment was unsealed.

They are charged with accepting bribes from an oil and gas company owned and controlled by the government of Azerbaijan, and a bank headquartered in Mexico City, according to the department.

“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 department said.

In exchange, Cuellar allegedly agreed to influence US policy in favor of Azerbaijan, a former Soviet state in the South Caucacus region which borders the Caspian Sea. He also allegedly agreed to help the Mexican banking conglomerate by pressuring US officials on money-laundering enforcement and seeking to change US money-laundering laws.

Cuellar said in a statement Friday that he and his wife are “innocent of these allegations.”

Cuellar, who has represented a South Texas district along the Mexico border since 2005, said he still plans to run for reelection in November and “will win.”

NBC was the first to report the indictment.

FBI agents searched Cuellar’s home and campaign office in January 2022. Witnesses said the agents left with a computer, along with plastic bins and bags containing personal items.

A federal grand jury inquiry also has sought records of organizations with ties to Azerbaijan, including Texas-based companies its says are linked to Cuellar’s wife.

Cuellar said in his statement that his actions “were consistent” with advice he’d obtained “proactively” from the House Ethics Committee.

He added that his wife “spent her career working with banking, tax, and consulting. The allegation that she is anything but qualified and hard working is both wrong and offensive.”

Cuellar, one of the longest-serving House Democrats, is a one-time co-chair of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus.

The indictment of the moderate Democrat could affect the chances his party has of taking the House majority next year.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a statement that Cuellar is “a valued member” of the party and is entitled to his day in court. But he said Cuellar would step aside from his influential role as the top-ranking Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing funding for Homeland Security “while this matter is ongoing.”

--With assistance from Erik Wasson and Zach C. Cohen.

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