The Halal Conspiracy at the Core of the Menendez Corruption Scandal Had Numerous Victims.

The Halal Conspiracy at the Core of the Menendez Corruption Scandal Had Numerous Victims.

Habib Ghanim has been certifying halal beef liver for Egypt for over 20 years, with none points. Egypt is the biggest importer of beef liver on this planet, and it is among the hottest dishes within the nation. Nearly all of the delicacy comes from the U.S. USA Halal Chamber of Commerce, the corporate owned by Ghanim, which was on the forefront of certifying American beef liver as halal earlier than it was shipped off.

“Halal” is an Arabic phrase that interprets to “lawful” or “permitted.” Within the case of meals, it refers back to the means of how meat is ready, processed, and saved in accordance with the Islamic religion. Whereas there isn’t any one globally accepted definition for halal amongst certification our bodies, halal meals is predominantly licensed by a Muslim or, extra generally, a Muslim non secular determine, just like the method for kosher meals.

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Halal certifiers fluctuate from one firm to a different, and every could deal with a selected business or a handful, like meat, cosmetics, eating places or prescription drugs. The certifiers acquire documentation from their shoppers, evaluation elements, examine facility sanitation for cross-contamination, and examine that every part from the registration to the creation of a product complies with Islamic legislation.

For meat, this implies ensuring that animals are handled, slaughtered, and processed in keeping with the Islamic religion, which incorporates invoking the identify of God and never killing an animal within the presence of others earlier than shoppers are capable of acquire a halal certification for his or her merchandise.

However Ghanim’s booming enterprise got here to a halt in 2019 when he obtained a letter from the U.S. Division of Agriculture saying that the Egyptian authorities had suspended his certifying work. It stated just one firm within the nation was now allowed to certify halal meat for Cairo: IS EG Halal.

In a single day, a company with no prior halal expertise had turn out to be the only real entity approved by the federal government of Egypt to certify halal exports worldwide.

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A number of American Muslims who ran halal certification firms misplaced shoppers. Ghanim misplaced 1000’s of {dollars}.

He and others tried desperately to have the choice reversed, or a least defined — as did the USDA. However nothing occurred. Working behind the scenes to make sure IS EG Halal saved its profitable contract, prosecutors now say, was the pinnacle of the corporate — a Christian man — and a strong U.S. senator who was allegedly in his pocket.

Menendez is seen after addressing colleagues at a Democratic Senate luncheon within the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 28. Menendez advised senators he wouldn’t resign after being indicted on federal corruption costs.

Tom Williams through Getty Pictures

Two of the gold bars found after federal agents searched Menendez's home and safe deposit box. Menendez and his wife were indicted on charges that they took bribes of gold bars, cash and more for corrupt acts.
Two of the gold bars discovered after federal brokers searched Menendez’s dwelling and protected deposit field. Menendez and his spouse had been indicted on costs that they took bribes of gold bars, money and extra for corrupt acts.

U.S. Legal professional’s Workplace through AP

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In a 39-page indictment filed in federal court docket final month, Wael Hana, an Egyptian American from New Jersey and the proprietor of IS EG Halal, was charged with bribery. So was Sen. Bob Menendez, a senior Democrat from the Backyard State and the chair of the Senate International Relations Committee, together with Menendez’s spouse, Nadine Menendez, and two different businessmen.

The senator and his partner have denied any wrongdoing. The entire defendants within the case have pleaded not responsible.

“Mr. Hana is harmless and has nothing to cover – as demonstrated by his constantly clear actions over the course of many months. He has cooperated with the federal government’s investigation by offering prosecutors with unfettered entry to paperwork and to his staff,” Hana’s spokesperson advised HuffPost in an emailed assertion, calling the costs “baseless.”

“Inside minutes of studying about this indictment, Mr. Hana voluntarily booked a flight again to the U.S., abandoning his spouse and three younger daughters, together with 7-month-old twins. He appears to be like ahead to proving his innocence,” added the spokesperson.

The indictment alleges that the Menendez accepted a whole bunch of 1000’s of {dollars} in bribes from Hana in trade for official favors.

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In accordance with prosecutors, the USDA contacted the Egyptian authorities, urging officers to rethink the monopoly rights granted to IS EG Halal. After studying about its communications, Bob Menendez stepped in, calling a USDA official and demanding an finish to the interference, the Division of Justice stated. In trade, Menendez and his spouse allegedly obtained bribes within the type of money and gold from Hana.

Menendez's wife, Nadine Menendez, departs a courthouse on Monday, Oct. 2, in New York City.
Menendez’s spouse, Nadine Menendez, departs a courthouse on Monday, Oct. 2, in New York Metropolis.

David Dee Delgado through Getty Pictures

After Hana secured the deal from the Egyptian authorities, his monetary state of affairs took a drastic flip. He used his halal firm to pay Menendez’s spouse practically $23,000 to assist along with her mortgage, in keeping with prosecutors. Courtroom paperwork say the FBI raided Hana’s dwelling and workplace later in 2019 and confiscated practically $6,000 in money. In 2021, he bought 22 gold bars with distinctive serial numbers — collectively price roughly $40,000 — that will finally be discovered within the Menendez dwelling, prosecutors declare.

Muslim American halal certifiers have been elevating the alarm on Hana for the reason that 40-year-old businessman acquired concerned within the business again in 2019 —questioning his speedy success, his friendship with Menendez and his sudden monopoly with the Egyptian authorities.

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Hana stated the Egyptian authorities offered him with imams and veterinarians to coach and educate him about halal certification and Islamic legislation. Egypt’s Basic Authority for Veterinary Providers and its Agriculture Ministry oversee the compliance of American exports earlier than they’re shipped to the nation.

“Hana’s background is a basic immigrant story, having come to the U.S. by way of the lottery system as a 22-year-old in 2006. Since then, he has been an entrepreneur who has constructed a number of companies, and he has at all times acted ethically and legally,” stated his spokesperson.

Nonetheless, Hana’s expertise was slim in contrast with Ghanim’s 20 years within the halal business, certifying meals in addition to cosmetics, prescription drugs and extra by way of his firm’s ISWA Halal Certification Division.

Primarily based in Maryland, USA Halal Chamber of Commerce operates worldwide, belongs to the World Halal Council, and is accredited by quite a few Muslim-majority nations, together with the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Ghanim stated he had lengthy been certifying halal beef for Egyptians when all of a sudden, in 2019, a gaggle of Egyptian veterinarians visited him in what they referred to as a routine go to. They requested to see his paperwork and inner paperwork as part of an audit, and Ghanim complied.

Shortly afterward, Ghanim acquired the letter from the USDA and the Egyptian authorities saying that he was not allowed to certify beef liver for Egypt, with out clarification.

American officers had been involved. “Egypt has delisted all U.S. halal certifiers, apart from a single new group,” learn a Might 2019 USDA report.

“The agency is just not recognized to have a preexisting relationship with the U.S. beef business or Islamic organizations in america. Exporters fascinated with delivery beef to Egypt are suggested to contact IS EG Halal Licensed on to make clear certification procedures,” it continued.

A photo shows a building for IS EG Halal, which prosecutors have linked to the investigation against Menendez in New Jersey, on Sept. 22.
A photograph exhibits a constructing for IS EG Halal, which prosecutors have linked to the investigation in opposition to Menendez in New Jersey, on Sept. 22.

Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Company through Getty Pictures

Not solely did Hana’s firm acquire unique rights, but it surely instantly elevated costs. Certifiers had charged $10-$20 to ship a roughly 2,000-pound container. After IS EG Halal’s monopoly, it value $220 for a similar weight.

“Egyptian individuals had been shortchanged,” stated Ghanim. “It’s remarkable.”

Mahmoud — one other halal certifier within the U.S., who agreed to talk beneath a pseudonym resulting from worry of retribution from Cairo — stated his personal firm was audited by the identical Egyptian veterinary group in 2019. Like Ghanim, Mahmoud shared all of his inner paperwork, together with high quality administration materials and auditing strategies, and welcomed the evaluation. He didn’t have a motive to fret, he stated.

“We had undergone many inspections by their authority previously to ensure that we had correct {qualifications} and the correct competencies to do halal certification, and these had by no means been an issue,” stated Mahmoud. “We at all times go these inspections and we proceed to go our inspections.”

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Each Mahmoud and Ghanim consider their info was given to Hana and IS EG Halal.

“It was a helpless frustration. We’re a small enterprise. We’re American Muslims. We’re immigrants. We’re hard-working and doing our greatest to do our jobs correctly and supply a residing for our staff,” Mahmoud stated. “Then this corrupt act is available in, and it’s a helpless feeling.”

Mahmoud reached out to all of his contacts, together with on the USDA and U.S. Embassy in Egypt, however to no avail.

The USDA deferred remark to the Division of Justice. The DOJ didn’t reply to HuffPost’s inquiry.

Mansoor Rafiq Umar, the president of Halal Watch World, is aware of the significance of transparency in relation to halal meals.

His father — who initially based HWW, the primary halal certification company in New York — was a pioneer who helped go a 2000 legislation in New Jersey making the state one of many earliest to require meals sellers to reveal halal info to the general public.

A spokesperson for the New Jersey Division of Shopper Affairs advised HuffPost that whereas the state “doesn’t decide the non secular legitimacy or acceptability of the halal requirements of those companies,” present legal guidelines do “require companies to dwell as much as the representations they make when promoting or serving meals represented as halal.”

In February 2023, the federal government unit carried out halal inspections, visiting 50 places all through the state to examine for correct labels, examine meals prep stations and guarantee companies promoting halal meals had the required documentation.

By means of his firm, Umar certifies something from meat to nail polish with a rigorous process that may embrace auditing a plant and the manufacturing of a product or swab-testing services. After a shopper receives a halal certificates from HWW, it’s surveilled and reviewed frequently.

IS EG Halal’s potential to monopolize the meat liver deal “exposes that there’s inherent corruption within the system with out regulation,” stated Umar.

That trickles all the way down to Muslims within the U.S. and throughout the globe. When Muslims see a halal stamp, there needs to be belief, Umar stated.

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There was little accountability within the American halal meals scene earlier than the New Jersey legislation, Umar added, and extra nonetheless must be finished.

Hamzah Maqbul, an imam, based the Halal Meals Requirements Alliance of America, a halal-certifying physique with chapters in Ohio, Michigan, Texas and New York.

“The entire main … certifiers in America actually at present are largely business individuals,” stated Maqbul. “Only a few of them are people who find themselves clerical or scholarly or pastoral individuals that really work locally.”

The Hana case is a major instance of how corruption and capitalism overpower the non secular rights of Muslims, he stated, including that the group ought to scrutinize merchandise after they can.

“The patron has a variety of energy oftentimes, whether or not it’s Muslims or not,” stated Maqbul.

“Once you vote along with your greenback, that makes empires rise and fall, and makes fortunes rise and fall,” he stated. “Don’t ever underestimate what it’s that you simply would possibly have an effect.”

Munir Chaudry remembers calling up numerous meals firms in 1980 for his or her elements, and printing out newsletters that listed what was halal and what was not. This casual information-gathering was the inspiration for Islamic Meals and Vitamin Council of America, his Illinois-based firm.

Chaudry, who holds a Ph.D. in meals chemistry, stated that though strides have been made within the halal meals business, extra must be finished to handle problems with transparency and accountability.

And whereas Muslims needs to be vigilant about who they’re buying from, Chaudry stated, the federal government should be extra proactive in understanding the significance of halal to American shoppers.

“We’ve got authorized protections for various religion teams, even in relation to meals,” he stated. “We would like our religion to be protected. We rely on USDA to maintain our meals correct, protected and having met the necessities for us all.”

In 2013, McDonald’s settled a lawsuit for $700,000 after a buyer in Dearborn, Michigan, claimed that native franchisees offered non-halal rooster as halal. Shortly after the settlement, McDonald’s eradicated its halal meals choices. In 2017, a Muslim man additionally in Dearborn filed a $100 million lawsuit in opposition to Little Caesars, alleging that the corporate offered pizzas labeled as halal however containing pork.

Throughout the nation, no less than 9 states have handed legal guidelines regulating the labeling or sale of halal meals. Halal certifiers hope such laws will help handle the blowback from Hana’s case and, extra importantly, regain the belief of American Muslim consumers.

“It actually impacts a variety of us who’re simply doing the most effective job that we probably can. We actually take it significantly,” stated Umar. “We don’t need the halal-conscious client to lose religion within the business as a complete. So our objective is to make sure that individuals know that we’re engaged on making adjustments.”

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