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‘Fat Leonard,’ fugitive in US Navy bribery case, captured in Venezuela: NPR TT News

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Leonard Francis, nicknamed “Fat Leonard,” the Malaysian defense contractor who masterminded one of the largest bribery scandals in US military history, has been arrested in Venezuela after fleeing before being sentenced. , officials said.

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AP, US Marshals Service via file


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AP, US Marshals Service via file


Leonard Francis, nicknamed “Fat Leonard,” the Malaysian defense contractor who masterminded one of the largest bribery scandals in US military history, has been arrested in Venezuela after fleeing before being sentenced. , officials said.

AP, US Marshals Service via file

SAN DIEGO – A Malaysian defense contractor known as “Fat Leonard” who masterminded one of the largest bribery scandals in U.S. military history has been arrested in Venezuela after fleeing before he was sentenced, officials said. said on Wednesday.

An international manhunt for Leonard Glenn Francis ended with his arrest by Venezuelan authorities Tuesday morning at Caracas airport as he was about to board a plane bound for another country, the US Marshals Service said. .

Interpol Venezuela Director General Carlos Garrett Rondón said in a statement posted on Instagram that Francis stopped in Cuba while traveling from Mexico to Venezuela. Francis was on his way to Russia and was arrested at Caracas’ main international airport, the agency said.

The arrest came before his scheduled sentencing in a California federal court for a bribery scheme that spanned more than a decade and involved dozens of U.S. Navy officers.

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

During Thursday’s sentencing hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Janice Sammartino announced to the court that Francis was in custody in Venezuela and a “no bail arrest warrant” had been issued.

“This turn of events raises a number of issues, and will obviously have an impact on other cases,” he said. Sentencing for the four Navy officers who went to trial and were found guilty in the case is scheduled for October.

The attorneys asked the court to note that Francis failed to appear as ordered for his sentencing hearing, while the defense attorney informed the court that he was “due to an irreparable breakdown of the attorney-client relationship.” will file a motion to sever his ties with Francis.”

Sammartino set a Dec. 14 status hearing for Francis with the caveat that all parties could meet sooner depending on how events unfold.

“I believe we can get it all done this morning,” Sammartino said.

Given its poor relations with Venezuela, it may be difficult for the US to get Francis back

The US government is faced with the challenge of returning fugitives to US soil. The US government does not recognize the socialist government of Nicolás Maduro, has no embassy in the country and has imposed crushing sanctions on the country, further straining relations. Law enforcement cooperation between the two countries is minimal.

Francis was under house arrest in San Diego when he cut off his GPS ankle bracelet and escaped on September 4. Ten U.S. agencies searched for Francis and authorities issued a $40,000 reward for his arrest.

US authorities have also issued a Red Notice, which asks law enforcement around the world to provisionally arrest anyone facing extradition. Both Malaysia and Singapore have extradition treaties with the US.

Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 to providing prostitution services, luxury hotels, cigars, gourmet meals and more than $500,000 in bribes to Navy officials and others to help his Singapore-based ship servicing company, Glen Defense Marine Asia Ltd, or GDMA. Prosecutors said the company charged at least $35 million in extra fees to service the ships, many of which were directed to ports it controlled in the Pacific.

Francis was allowed to remain under house arrest to receive medical care while he cooperated at trial. With his help, prosecutors convicted 33 of the 34, including more than two dozen Navy officers.

The judge was afraid that Francis would try to escape

Sammartino feared Francis would flee when he turned down a request four years ago to allow him to remain under house arrest without 24-hour security guards.

The judge repeatedly said that despite Francis’ poor health, security guards should be on site to house arrest him.

According to a transcript of a closed-door hearing in February 2018, which was unsealed in January, Sammartino expressed concern that if Francis fled and returned to Malaysia, his name would come up if someone asked ” One is allowed to do so without protection.”

He raised similar concerns after receiving a report on Dec. 17, 2020, that the home had been left unattended for nearly three hours, according to court transcripts. The guard was on his lunch break, and Francis apologized to the judge for the accident.

According to Supervisory Deputy US Marsha, Omar Castillo, officers found no security guards when they arrived at Francis’ home in the tony San Diego neighborhood after he removed the ankle monitor. The device, believed to have been removed with heavy scissors, was found in the home.

Castillo said someone called the San Diego Police Department, which dispatched officers to the home on the afternoon of Sept. 4. Authorities found the home unoccupied and contacted the federal agency in charge of his incarceration, US Pretrial Services, who in turn made contact. US Marshals Service.

Castillo said neighbors saw U-Haul trucks coming and going from the home a day or two before the escape.

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