Malaysian defence contractor ‘Fat Leonard’ seeks Venezuela asylum

Local media reported that Leonard Glenn Francis had requested to remain in Venezuela on health and political grounds.

Image on the Instagram account of Interpol Venezuela shows Malaysian fugitive Leonard Glenn Francis, known as "Fat Leonard", after his capture in Venezuela on September 21, 2022.
Image on the Instagram account of Interpol Venezuela shows Malaysian fugitive Leonard Glenn Francis, known as "Fat Leonard", after his capture in Venezuela on September 21, 2022 [File: Interpol Venezuela Instagram account/AFP]

A fugitive Malaysian defence contractor nicknamed “Fat Leonard” who orchestrated a huge bribery scheme involving dozens of United States Navy officials, has requested asylum in Venezuela almost a week after he was arrested in the South American country.

Leonard Glenn Francis — arrested on September 21 at Caracas international airport as he prepared to depart for Russia — appeared in court the day after his arrest and announced that he wished to remain in Venezuela on medical and political grounds, local media reported on Monday.

Venezuela’s government-allied newspaper Ultimas Noticias, citing judicial sources in its report, said that Francis told the court hearing that he wanted to appeal for political asylum and that he was suffering from metastatic kidney cancer.

Agencia Venezuela News also carried the report by Ultimas Noticias, adding that Francis told the court that he wished to remain in Venezuela and reunite with his wife and family.

Neither Venezuela’s Information Ministry nor its Attorney General’s Office immediately responded to a request for comment.

By law, the Venezuelan government must consider the asylum request.

Francis fled his home in San Diego, California, on September 4, just weeks before he was to be sentenced in a bribery case where he acknowledged overbilling the US Navy by $35m with the help of dozens of US naval officers.

Francis admitted to providing prostitutes, luxury travel, expensive meals and cigars, and other bribes to the naval officials who in return directed US Navy ships to ports Francis controlled in Southeast Asia.

The owner of Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd, which supplied food, water and fuel to naval vessels for decades, Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 and faced up to 25 years in prison.

While awaiting sentencing, he was given home confinement in San Diego to receive medical care as he cooperated with the prosecution, which led to the convictions of 33 of 34 defendants.

After removing a GPS ankle monitor and fleeing his home, the US issued an Interpol red-notice request for his arrest which led to his capture in Caracas last week.

Francis had arrived in Venezuela via Mexico and Cuba, and planned to continue on to Russia, Venezuela’s Interpol office said in a statement.

Though US President Joe Biden’s administration does not officially recognise Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government, Venezuela and the US have an extradition agreement.

US authorities have 30 days to formally request that he be extradited.

Washington does not have an embassy in Venezuela and has imposed crushing sanctions on Caracas, which has further embittered relations between the two countries.

That Maduro could use Francis’ extradition as a bargaining chip to have sanctions reduced or lifted by Washington has been mooted in Venezuela and abroad.

Agencia Venezuela News tweeted a cartoon over the weekend depicting Maduro holding a basketball emblazoned with the name “Fat Leonard” over the head of Uncle Sam.

Neither US nor Venezuelan officials have yet commented on Francis’s request for asylum.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies