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‘Fat Leonard’, fugitive in US Navy bribery case, arrested in Venezuela: NPR


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

US Marshals Service via AP, File


US Marshals Service via AP, File


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

US Marshals Service via AP, File

SAN DIEGO – The Malaysian defense contractor nicknamed “Fat Leonard” who orchestrated one of the largest bribery scandals in US military history has been arrested in Venezuela after Flee before sentencingauthorities said Wednesday.

The international pursuit of Leonard Glenn Francis ended with his arrest by Venezuelan authorities on Tuesday morning at Caracas airport as he was about to board a plane bound for another country, the US Marshall Service reported.

In a statement posted on Instagram, the Director General of Interpol, Carlos Garrate Rondon, said that Francis had traveled to Venezuela from Mexico and stopped in Cuba. The agency said Francis was on his way to Russia and was arrested at the main international airport in Caracas.

The arrest came on the eve of his scheduled verdict in a California federal court on charges of a bribery scheme that lasted more than a decade and involved dozens of US Navy officers.

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

At Thursday’s sentencing hearing, US District Judge Janis Sammartino told the court that Francis was being held in Venezuela and that a “non-bail arrest warrant” had been issued.

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

Prosecutors asked the court to note that Francis did not attend the sentencing hearing as ordered, while defense attorneys notified the court that they would file a motion to sever their relations with Francis due to an “irreparable breakdown of the attorney-client relationship.”

Sammartino set a hearing for December 14 for Francis’ status with a warning that all sides could meet sooner depending on how events unfold.

“I think that’s all we can achieve this morning,” Sammartino said.

Given its poor relations with Venezuela, it may be difficult for the United States to restore Francis

The United States government faces a difficult challenge in bringing the fugitive back to American soil. The US government does not recognize Nicolás Maduro’s socialist government, does not have an embassy in the country, and has imposed crushing sanctions on the country that further strained relations. Law enforcement cooperation between the two countries is rare.

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

The US authorities have also issued a Red Notice asking law enforcement authorities around the world to temporarily arrest a person with the possibility of extradition. Malaysia and Singapore both have extradition agreements with the United States.

In 2015 Francis pleaded guilty to providing prostitution, luxury hotels, cigars, gourmet meals and more than $500,000 in bribes to Navy officials and others to help his Singapore-based ship services company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd. or GDMA. Prosecutors said the company raised an excess fee to the Navy of at least $35 million for servicing the ships, much of which was directed to the ports it controls in the Pacific Ocean.

Francis was allowed to stay at home for medical care while he cooperated with the prosecution. With his help, prosecutors were able to convict 33 of the 34 accused, among whom were more than twenty Navy officers.

The judge was afraid that Francis would try to escape

Sammartino feared Francis would run when she refused a request four years ago to allow him to be placed under house arrest without round-the-clock security guards.

The judge has repeatedly emphasized that security guards must be on site until Francis is under house arrest, despite his poor health.

According to the transcript of a February 2018 closed-door hearing, which opened in January, Sammartino expressed concern that her name would come out if Francis fled and ended up in Malaysia if anyone asked “who would allow someone to do this without security.”

It raised similar concerns on December 17, 2020, after receiving a report that the house had been left unguarded for nearly three hours, according to court minutes. The guard was on his lunch break, and Francis apologized to the judge for the incident.

Officials found no security guards when they arrived at Francis’ home in the Tony neighborhood of San Diego about seven hours after he took off his ankle monitor, according to U.S. Deputy Superintendent, Omar Castillo. 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 sent the officers home on the afternoon of September 4. US Marshals Service.

Castillo said neighbors reported seeing U-Haul trucks coming and going from the house a day or two before the escape.


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