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Indicted US Congressman Says He is 'Absolutely Innocent' of Bribery, Conspiracy


Democratic U.S. Congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana has pleaded not guilty to charges that he took illegal payoffs for arranging business deals in Africa.

Jefferson appeared in a court Friday near Washington, D.C. to answer 16 criminal counts including racketeering, soliciting bribes, fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy.

Jefferson's trial was set for January. He was released on $100,000 bond.

In remarks to reporters afterward, Jefferson said he is "absolutely innocent," and he vowed to take any means necessary to clear his name.

Jefferson was under investigation for two years before his indictment Monday. He is accused of using his position to promote the sale of telecommunications equipment and services from a Louisiana-based firm to Nigeria, Ghana and other African nations.

Authorities found $90,000 in alleged bribe money in a freezer during a raid on the lawmaker's Washington home.

Earlier, he was videotaped accepting $100,000 in marked bills from an informer. Court documents say the same marked money was found in his freezer.

On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed two resolutions related to Jefferson. One called on the House Ethics Committee to investigate whether Jefferson should be expelled from Congress. A second resolution called for the committee to automatically investigate any House member within 30 days of an indictment, or explain why it did not do so.

Jefferson relinquished his seat on the Small Business Committee on Tuesday. He was stripped of his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee last year.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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