Sen. Bob Menendez’s corruption allegations, part of which has to do with business interests in the Dominican Republic, may soon make waves strong enough to reach the island’s political elite.
Menendez's link to Dominican friend and donor Salomon Melgen has been virtually ignored by media outlets on the island, where the now-Florida resident still holds clout.
This, however, is likely to change.
The political establishment has been paying rapt attention to a part of the indictment that raises the possibility of official corruption and the involvement of a powerful figure with deep ties to top government leaders.
Many on the island are paying special attention to page 33 of the indictment, related with Menendez’s alleged attempt to stop the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from donating cargo screening equipment to the Dominican Republic – a donation that would have directly hurt his friend Melgen, who had an exclusive contract to provide cargo screening services to Dominican ports.
Even though not mentioned by name, the date alluded in that section of the indictment would suggest the involvement of Rafael Camilo, the country’s Customs General Director until 2012. Camilo, a close ally to former president Leonel Fernandez, is still tied to the highest hierarchies of power in the D.R.
On page 29 of the indictment, an e-mail by a Secretary of State official refers to the customs director as “highly corrupt.”
“I called back [redacted]. He said the current scanners are inadequate and the port security is deteriorating quickly. The customs director is highly corrupt,” the email from the official said. “He proposes going after visas for corruption purposes, which would have a cultural impact and send a message to the president.”
Camilo, 67, was the country’s Customs Director from 2009 to 2012, and then served as Banks Superintendent until his retirement in 2014. He is a longtime member of the Dominican Liberation Party’s Central Committee (Partido de la Liberacion Dominicana, PLD), the current ruling party. Camilo remains a close ally of two-time president Leonel Fernandez, who still is a major power broker in the Dominican Republic, and he also helped launch the candidacy of Fernandez’s successor Danilo Medina, who has been in office since 2012.
Political experts in the country say Camilo’s link to the issue is evidence that the government was somehow involved and some are saying this could pull the country into a scandal that has shaken up Washington.
“[Former President Leonel] Fernandez has remained quiet all this time, but now this is going to push him to act,” said Jorge Pineda, Editor in Chief at English-language news website Dominican Today, to Fox News Latino.
Pineda said that the extension of Dominican corruption exposed by the indictment will probably have consequences, even though no government official has uttered a word on the indictment as of yet.
“I am surprised that Camilo hasn’t come out and spoken yet,” said Francisco Alvarez, a member of a prominent anti-corruption organization in the D.R. called Participación Ciudadana. “He probably will in the following days.”
Alvarez said Melgen used Sen. Menendez as his “personal lobbyist” once he heard of the CBP’s supposed intentions to make a massive donation of X-ray equipment that would have ruined any lucrative prospects for Melgen’s ICCSI – even though the contract is tied up in court.
“He used Menendez as his private lobbyist to dissuade the U.S. authorities [to go ahead with the donation] by discrediting the Custom’s Director,” Alvarez said.
Camilo, Alvarez said, was being dirtied up because he opposed Melgen’s contract from the start – so he was made to look like a bad guy with no credibility.
Alvarez noted that the person feeding the information to the States Department official who describes the Customs Director as “highly corrupt” is person C, identified in the indictment as Menendez’s friend.
“This case is a matter of huge transcendence because this is one of the most corrupt contracts in the history of the D.R.,” Alvarez said.