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Malaysian businessman escapes house arrest: What we know so far about the 'Fat Leonard’ scandal

Leonard Glenn Francis, who ran a military contracting company out of Singapore, pleaded guilty in 2015 to offering about US$500,000 in bribes to US Navy officers.

Malaysian businessman escapes house arrest: What we know so far about the 'Fat Leonard’ scandal

File photo of Leonard Glenn Francis. (Image: Facebook/Leonard Francis)

WASHINGTON: United States law enforcement agencies are on the lookout for Malaysian businessman Leonard Glenn Francis, who is reportedly on the run after he escaped house arrest in San Diego, California last Sunday (Sep 4).

Francis, who is widely known as “Fat Leonard”, was due to be sentenced in three weeks, after he pleaded guilty in a corruption case involving the US Navy.

He was found missing from his San Diego residence when police were sent to check on him after discovering that there was a problem with his electronic ankle bracelet.

WHAT THE CORRUPTION SCANDAL WAS ABOUT

The Malaysian national ran a military contracting company out of Singapore. He was accused of giving bribes to Navy officers to influence them to steer official work toward his shipyards, which American prosecutors said had been overcharging the Navy.

US media reported that Francis was arrested in 2013 following a federal sting operation in a San Diego hotel, after he was suspected of running a vast corruption scheme which involved some naval officers treated to food, drink and paid sex.

He was said to have used his influence with senior commanders to secure lucrative military contracts often involving the Indo-Pacific based 7th Fleet - the largest of the Navy's forward deployed fleets.

He pleaded guilty in 2015 to offering about US$500,000 in bribes to Navy officers.

In return, the officers made sure that US naval vessels, including aircraft carriers, were diverted towards Francis’ Singapore-based company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, for servicing.

In the process, the Navy was overcharged by an estimated US$35 million. This was later dubbed the “Fat Leonard” scandal by the US media.

According to The Washington Post, the scandal was perhaps the worst national-security breach of its kind to hit the US Navy since the end of the Cold War.

WHO HAVE BEEN FOUND GUILTY SO FAR

According to US media reports, at least four Navy officers have been found guilty so far.

Another 29 people, including naval officials, contractors and Francis himself, have pleaded guilty and are awaiting their sentencing, American media reported.

Additionally, a former lead contract specialist with the US Navy based in Singapore was also involved.

Gursharan Kaur Sharon Rachael had received more than S$130,000 in bribes from Francis in exchange for sensitive US Navy information. Before she resigned in 2015, she had been an employee of the US government for more than 25 years.

In July 2018, Gursharan was sentenced by a district court in Singapore to two years and nine months in jail.

Francis, who was reported to be suffering from numerous health problems, including kidney cancer, was allowed to be released to house arrest in 2018, while waiting for his sentence.  

The house arrest arrangement, said to be highly unusual, was to enable him to undergo cancer treatment while he was acting as a witness for the federal prosecutors.

He was due to be sentenced on Sep 22 and faces a maximum custodial term of 25 years.

WHAT ARE THE CIRCUMSTANCES AROUND HIS ESCAPE?

The federal agency responsible for Francis’ arrest, the US Marshals Services said on Monday that the businessman might have planned for his escape.

“He was planning this out, that’s for sure,” Supervisory Deputy US Marshal Omar Castillo said in  a statement.

Mr Castillo said that when police went to Francis’ San Diego home on Sunday, they found that no one was around.

They then notified the US Marshals who went to the house and verified that he was no longer there.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that a GPS bracelet which has been cut off was found in the house, while neighbours said they had seen moving trucks coming and going at the property in the days leading up to his escape.

According to the US Marshals, they are now investigating multiple leads on the whereabouts of Francis, though they did not discount the possibility that he might have crossed into Mexico.

US media reported that the manner of Francis’ escape had led to some questions over the US Marshals’ competence in handling the case, especially given that Francis is a central figure in the biggest scandal in US naval history. 

Source: Agencies/ih(aw)
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