“Fat Leonard”, a fugitive in a US Navy corruption case, was captured in Venezuela: NPR

Leonard Francis, a Malaysian defense contractor nicknamed “Fat Leonard” who orchestrated one of the largest corruption scandals in US military history, was arrested in Venezuela after fleeing before his sentencing, authorities said.

US Marshal Service via AP, File


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US Marshal Service via AP, File

Leonard Francis, a Malaysian defense contractor nicknamed “Fat Leonard” who orchestrated one of the largest corruption scandals in US military history, was arrested in Venezuela after fleeing before his sentencing, authorities said.

US Marshal Service via AP, File

SAN DIEGO – A Malaysian defense contractor nicknamed “Fat Leonard” who orchestrated one of the biggest corruption scandals in US military history was arrested in Venezuela after fleeing before his sentencing, authorities said Wednesday.

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

Francis had traveled to Venezuela from Mexico with a stopover in Cuba, Interpol Venezuela director general Carlos Garate Rondon said in a statement posted on Instagram. Francis was on his way to Russia and was arrested at Caracas’ main international airport, the agency said.

The arrest came on the eve of his scheduled conviction in a California federal court for a bribery plot that spanned more than a decade and involved dozens of US Navy officers.

There was no immediate news on when he could be extradited to the United States.

At Thursday’s judgment hearing, US District Court Judge Janis Sammartino announced to the court that Francis was in custody in Venezuela and that a “warrant for arrest without bail” had been issued.

“This turn of events raises several problems and will obviously have an impact on other cases,” he 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 did not appear at his sentencing hearing as ordered, while the defense attorneys notified the court that they would file a motion to sever their ties with Francis due to a “breakup. irreparable of the lawyer-client relationship. “

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

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

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

The US government faces an uphill challenge by returning the fugitive to American soil. The US government does not recognize Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government, does not have an embassy in the country and has imposed overwhelming sanctions on the country which has further tightened relations. Cooperation between law enforcement agencies between the two countries is rare.

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

US authorities have also issued a red notice, calling on law enforcement agencies around the world to provisionally arrest someone with the possibility of extradition. Malaysia and Singapore both have extradition agreements with the United States.

Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 to offering prostitution services, luxury hotels, cigars, gourmet meals, and more than $ 500,000 in bribes to Navy officials and others to help his Singapore-based naval services company Glenn Defense. Marine Asia Ltd. or GDMA. Prosecutors said the company overcharged the Navy by at least $ 35 million for the maintenance of the ships, many of which were bound for ports it controlled in the Pacific.

Francis had been allowed to remain in home isolation for medical treatment while cooperating with the prosecution. With his help, prosecutors secured the sentencing of 33 of the 34 defendants, including more than two dozen Navy officers.

The judge had feared that Francis was trying to escape

Sammartino had feared that Francis would escape when four years earlier he denied a request to allow him to be under house arrest without 24-hour security guards.

The judge has repeatedly stated that security guards must be on site for Francis to be under house arrest, despite his poor health.

According to a transcript of a closed-door hearing in February 2018, which opened in January, Sammartino expressed concern that his name would come out if Francis escaped and returned to Malaysia if anyone asked “who allowed someone to do it without security. “

It raised similar concerns in one December. 17, 2020, after receiving a complaint that the house was left with no one guarding it for nearly three hours, according to the court transcript. The guard was on his lunch break and Francis apologized to the judge for the incident.

According to US Deputy Supervisor Marsha, Omar Castillo, officials found no security guards when they arrived at Francis’s home in a tough San Diego neighborhood about seven hours after he removed the ankle monitor. The device, believed to have been removed with heavy scissors, was found in the home.

Castillo said someone had called the San Diego Police Department, which officers sent home on the afternoon of September 4. The agents found the house empty and contacted US Preliminary Services, the federal agency responsible for his imprisonment, which then contacted the US Marshal Service.

Neighbors reported seeing U-Haul trucks coming and going a day or two before the escape, Castillo said.