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5 indicted in Iraqi contract kickback scheme

Three former U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees and two foreign contractors participated in a kickback scheme surrounding the award of more than $50 million in construction contracts in Iraq, according to an indictment handed down Thursday.

The men secured tens of millions in Iraq construction and used at least six foreign bank accounts in Jordan and Egypt to transfer illegal bribes and kickback payments to U.S. bank accounts. At least a dozen of the U.S. accounts were based in New Jersey, authorities said.

"The defendants allegedly treated projects to secure safe access to fuel, electricity, education and medical treatment as opportunities for illegally amassing personal wealth," New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said.

Two of the men had been charged last year in connection with the case.

John Alfy Salama Markus, also known as John Salama, was charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and money laundering. The money laundering count carries a 20-year maximum prison sentence.

He was released on $500,000 bail last year and was ordered to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.

Also charged last year was Ahmed Nouri, also known as Ahmed Bahjat, vice president of a construction and engineering company seeking work in Iraq. He faces charges for conspiracy to defraud the United States and wire fraud

According to a criminal complaint, Markus, an Egyptian-born U.S. citizen who lived in central New Jersey, monitored contracts as a project engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq in 2007 and 2008. It alleged Markus took bribes from Nouri in exchange for providing confidential information to Nouri's company, Iraqi Consultants & Construction Bureau, about bidding negotiations on certain projects.

The indictment released Thursday adds a tax fraud charge against Markus, and charges three new people associated with the alleged scheme.

They are Onisem Gomez, 32, a U.S. citizen residing in Panama and a former project engineer in the same region; Ammar Al-Jobory, 33, an Iraqi citizen employed under a contract as a deputy resident engineer in the Gulf region; and Mithaq Al-Fahal, 36, an Iraqi citizen, who worked at a privately owned foreign engineering construction company awarded contracts in Iraq.

All but Markus remain at large. He is scheduled to be arraigned on August 4.

An attorney for Markus, Stacy Biancamano, has previously said he was a soldier in Iraq before working for the Army Corps of Engineers and had earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. She did not return a call for comment on Thursday.

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