‘Fat Leonard’ nabbed in Venezuela after fleeing US Navy trial

Leonard Glenn Francis fled the US earlier this month ahead of sentencing for his role in a massive bribery scandal.

A wanted poster provided by the US Marshals Service shows Leonard Francis, also known as "Fat Leonard".
A wanted poster provided by the US Marshals Service shows Leonard Francis, also known as 'Fat Leonard', on Tuesday September 6, 2022 [US Marshals Service via AP Photo]

A Malaysian defence contractor – popularly known as “Fat Leonard” – who orchestrated one of the largest bribery scandals in United States military history has been arrested in Venezuela.

An international manhunt was launched for Leonard Glenn Francis earlier this month after he fled the US ahead of his scheduled sentencing for his role in the massive bribery scandal involving dozens of US naval officials.

The hunt ended with Francis’s arrest by Venezuelan authorities on Tuesday morning at Caracas airport as he was about to board an aeroplane for another country, the US Marshals Service said on Wednesday.

Carlos Garate Rondon, the director general of Venezuela’s office of the international police agency Interpol, said in a statement posted on Instagram that Francis came to Venezuela from Mexico and that he was headed onward to Russia.

He had also made a stop-over in Cuba, the Interpol chief said, adding that Francis would be handed over to judicial authorities in preparation for his extradition.

Francis’s arrest came on the eve of his scheduled sentencing in a federal court in California for a bribery scheme that lasted more than a decade and involved dozens of US Navy officers.

There was no immediate word on when he might be extradited to the US.

At the sentencing hearing on Thursday, US District Court Judge Janis Sammartino announced to the court that Francis was in custody in Venezuela and that a “no bail arrest warrant” had been issued.

“This turn of events raises several issues, and obviously will have an impact on other cases,” she said. A sentencing hearing for four Navy officers who went to trial in the case and were found guilty is set for October.

Prosecutors asked the court to note that Francis failed to appear at his sentencing hearing as ordered, while defence lawyer said they would be filing a motion severing their ties with Francis due to an “irreparable break down of the attorney-client relationship”.

Sammartino set a December 14 status hearing for Francis with the caveat that all parties could meet sooner depending on how events unfold. “I believe that’s all we can accomplish this morning,” the judge said.

Francis was confined to home arrest in San Diego when he cut off his GPS ankle bracelet and escaped on September 4. Ten US agencies have searched for Francis and a $40,000 reward was offered by the US Marshals Service and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).

Leonard Francis, Malaysian defence contractor nicknamed 'Fat Leonard'
Francis was arrested by Venezuelan authorities at Caracas airport this week [File: Courtesy of US Marshals Service via AP Photo]

US authorities also issued an Interpol red notice, which asks law enforcement worldwide to provisionally arrest someone with the possibility of extradition. It was thought that Francis had fled to Mexico as the first step in a journey that might return him to Asia.

Malaysia and Singapore both have extradition agreements with the US.

Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 to offering prostitution services, luxury travel and hotels, lavish meals and more than $500,000 in bribes to US Navy officials and others to help his Singapore-based ship servicing company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd or GDMA, secure lucrative US naval contracts.

Prosecutors said the company then overcharged the navy by at least $35m for servicing US ships, many of which were routed to ports he controlled in the Pacific with the assistance of the officials receiving his bribes.

The first to be convicted in the case was John Beliveau II, a supervisor in the NCIS, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiracy and bribery charges.

Beliveau is believed to have given Francis advice on how to thwart an NCIS investigation against him, leaked the names of witnesses, and shared hundreds of pages of confidential NCIS files with him.

In exchange for information, Beliveau received travel, dinners and hotel costs worth thousands of dollars during visits to Singapore, the Philippines, and Thailand. He also received at least five envelopes of cash, and the services of sex workers, the document said.

Beliveau was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2016 and ordered to pay $20m in restitution to the Navy.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies