Navy Bribery: According to officials, the sought-after Malaysian defense contractor known as “Fat Leonard,” who orchestrated one of the biggest bribery scandals in U.S. Navy history, has been moving between countries since making his getaway two weeks ago in search of a place where he could live in comparative safety from American authorities. It almost worked.
Fat Leonard, a wealthy Malaysian contractor who orchestrated one of the U.S. Navy's longest-running bribery scandals, was captured in Venezuela two weeks after he cut off his ankle monitor and escaped home arrest, an Interpol official said. https://t.co/WPvH5SY1mY
— The New York Times (@nytimes) September 22, 2022
After cutting off an ankle monitor and evading house arrest in San Diego on September 4, Leonard Glenn Francis is thought to have crossed the border into Mexico, then traveled to Cuba and Venezuela before being captured on Tuesday at Simón Bolvar International Airport outside of Caracas, according to U.S. and Venezuelan authorities.
Francis had intended to travel to Russia, according to Carlos Garate Rondon, director general of Interpol Venezuela, who announced the arrest in a statement on Instagram on Wednesday. Francis, he claimed, will be delivered to the country’s judicial authorities in order for the extradition process to begin.
The United States Marshals Service has jurisdiction
Greg Rinckey, a former Army lawyer who is now in private practice, claimed that Francis was “trying to play the angle of using some countries to go outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Marshals Service.”
It appears that they caught him in time, according to Rinckey. I don’t think the Russians would have handed him over to us if he had made it to Russia.
“Fat Leonard,” who orchestrated the largest corruption scandal in US Navy history, was arrested Tuesday morning by authorities in Venezuela. https://t.co/ZKWoE9SzI2
— CNN (@CNN) September 22, 2022
Although there is an extradition treaty between the US and Venezuela, it may be difficult for the US government to get the fugitive back to its territory. The socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro is not formally recognized by the Biden administration, which also has no embassy in Venezuela and slapped harsh sanctions on it that have further strained relations. Rarely do the two nations’ law enforcement agencies work together.
No information was available on Francis’ extradition to the United States at the time.
His scheduled sentencing in a federal court in California for a multi-year bribery conspiracy was the day before the arrest.
In exchange for his cooperation with the prosecution, Francis was permitted to remain in home confinement after entering a guilty plea in 2015. With his assistance, the prosecution was able to convict 33 of the defendants—including more than two dozen Navy officers—out of 34 total.
U.S. Navy ships at ports throughout Asia
As the main point of contact for U.S. Navy ships at ports throughout Asia, the towering man with a wide girth and gregarious personality wielded incredible influence. For many years, ships were supplied with food, water, and gasoline by his family’s ship servicing company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd., or GDMA, based in Singapore.
In addition to selling officers Kobe beef, pricey cigars, concert tickets, and wild sex parties at opulent hotels from Thailand to the Philippines, he also did the same for them. Commanders gave him access to sensitive information in return for steering their vessels—mostly from the Navy’s 7th Fleet—to ports under his control, enabling him to conceal up to $35 million in false charges.
Francis revealed to podcaster Tom Wright, who produced a nine-part series on the case, that one of the people he became friends with was a Russian official. In one episode that was published in October of last year, Francis claimed that the Russian diplomat would unexpectedly drop by his home to deliver vodka and other presents while he resided just a “stone’s throw” away from the Russian Embassy in Singapore.
It’s uncertain if Francis asked his Russian buddies for assistance while he was running from the law.
According to a law enforcement person familiar with the case, Francis was located using a cellphone number that was given to investigators. Francis was discovered on Tuesday in a Caracas area, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue in public.
Following a tip from a cab driver that Francis was leaving a hotel and heading to the airport, Venezuelan officials sent a team of officers there.
Francis, according to the official, wanted to fly to Margarita, an island in the Caribbean that Venezuela hopes to develop into a well-liked vacation spot for Russian visitors due to its magnificent beaches that can be reached by ferry or plane from the mainland. Beginning on October 1st, the government said last month that it will provide five flights every week between Margarita and Moscow. On the island, there are already signs in Russian.
According to the official, Francis later disclosed to authorities that Russia was his intended destination.
If Francis had contacts in Russia who were willing to assist, it is unknown what they expected in exchange. Francis boasted that he still had embarrassing images and footage of senior Navy officers.
Due to the evolving circumstances, his sentence hearing was postponed until Thursday. Francis will require fresh counsel when he returns.
Devin Burstein, his defense attorney, informed the judge that he intended to submit a request to end their connection as a result of an “irreparable breakdown in the attorney-client relationship.” The arrest of his client in Venezuela was not brought up by Burstein.
Francis will likely receive a longer sentence when he does return, according to the prosecution, who asked the court to record his absence from his scheduled sentencing hearing.
Four Navy officers who were tried and found guilty in the case will have sentencing hearings in October.
Garcia Cano reported from Venezuela’s capital, Caracas. This report was written by Miami-based AP journalist Joshua Goodman.
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