A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employee took $45,000 in bribes from a real estate agent in Kuwait in exchange for signing leases to house military employees there, federal prosecutors said.
Gheevarghese Pappen, 62, was arrested at the Atlanta airport Friday as he was returning to his home in Savannah, Ga., the Justice Department said.
A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., and unsealed Tuesday charges Pappen with accepting about $45,000 in bribes, the department said. He had been assigned to Camp Arifjan, a U.S. military base about 40 miles south of Kuwait City. His job was to find living quarters for Army personnel.
The complaint accuses Pappen of telling Kuwaiti real estate agent Fahhad Abdullah Matar in May 2005 that he would only sign contracts on behalf of the Army if Matar agreed to pay bribes.
Investigators didn't learn about the bribery scheme until late February, when an Army chief warrant officer was told by the Kuwaiti that the monthly rent was less than what Pappen had reported, according to court papers. Matar then acknowledged he had paid bribes and began cooperating with Army investigators, the court papers said.
Matar secretly recorded his meeting with Pappen on March 16 during which they discussed payments for future housing contracts. "Why don't we do 50/50?" Pappen said at one point, according to court papers.
The Army ordered Pappen to return to the United States the next day, although it is not clear from court papers whether that travel had been planned before the recorded meeting.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, the department said.