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Cuellar says he’s innocent of public corruption charges

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(The Center Square) – Federal prosecutors indicted longtime Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar and his wife on Friday on foreign bribery charges.

The indictment unsealed in the Southern District of Texas charged the 68-year-old Democrat and wife Imelda Cuellar, 67, with participating in two schemes involving bribery, unlawful foreign influence and money laundering.

Both made an initial court appearance Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dena Palermo in Houston.

Even before that appearance, Cuellar said he and his wife were innocent.

“Everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people of South Texas,” Cuellar said in a statement Friday. “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.”

He also said he sought a meeting with prosecutors.

“We requested a meeting with the Washington D.C. prosecutors to explain the facts and they refused to discuss the case with us or hear our side,” he said in the statement.

Prosecutors said that Cuellar and his wife accepted about $600,000 in bribes from an oil and gas company owned by the Government of Azerbaijan and a bank headquartered in Mexico City.

Prosecutors said the bribe payments were laundered as consulting contracts through a series of front companies and middlemen into shell companies owned by Imelda Cuellar, who they said performed little to no legitimate work under the consulting contracts.

In exchange, prosecutors said Cuellar agreed to use his office to influence U.S. foreign policy in favor of Azerbaijan. Prosecutors said in exchange for the bribes paid by the Mexican bank, the congressman agreed to influence legislative activity and to advise and pressure high-ranking U.S. officials regarding measures beneficial to the bank.

Cuellar previously served as co-chair of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus.

Cuellar and his wife were both charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit bribery of a federal official and to have a public official act as an agent of a foreign principal, two counts of bribery of a federal official, two counts of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, two counts of violating the ban on public officials acting as agents of a foreign principal, one count of conspiracy to commit concealment money laundering and five counts of money laundering.

The money laundering charges carry up to 20 years in prison on each count.

Friday’s indictment follows a 2022 FBI raid on Cuellar’s home and campaign office.

The FBI and the Department of State’s Office of Inspector General investigated the case.

Cuellar has represented Texas’s 28th Congressional District since 2005. His district includes Laredo and other communities located along the border with Mexico, spanning as far south as Reynosa along the Rio Grande River, stretching northwest to Laredo and northeast to San Antonio.

Azerbaijan, a part of the South Caucasus region, spent about $480,000 on lobbying in Washington in 2023, according to OpenSecrets.

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