Case of Singapore-based contractor 'Fat Leonard', who cheated the US Navy, continues to expand

From meals of suckling pig and the services of prostitutes to cash gifts and designer furniture, Francis, better known as Fat Leonard, was lavish in allegedly showering US Navy officers and civilian contractors with bribes for almost a decade.
From meals of suckling pig and the services of prostitutes to cash gifts and designer furniture, Francis, better known as Fat Leonard, was lavish in allegedly showering US Navy officers and civilian contractors with bribes for almost a decade.PHOTO: US NAVY

Case of Fat Leonard, who cheated the US Navy, continues to expand

Two drivers, two or three maids, one gardener and a part-time cleaner.

When the man known as Fat Leonard lived in Nassim Road - one of Singapore's most expensive addresses - he was known in the neighbourhood not just for the girth that prompted his nickname, but the size of his household entourage as well.

He was viewed by his staff to be generous as well. Mr Ismail Bakar, 59, a security guard at a nearby condominium, recounts what they told him: "He was a generous boss. He would also pay for their taxi fare in and out of the estate when they needed to buy meals as the house was a distance from the main road."

Now, Leonard Glenn Francis is known around the world for cheating the United States Navy of close to US$35 million (S$49 million), and for bringing down at least 20 current or former US Navy officials - including most recently a retired admiral three weeks ago - with more expected to come. It was recently revealed that two senior Australian sailors are also being probed.

Francis, who pleaded guilty, is now awaiting sentencing in the US.

  • Navy steps up oversight of contracting process

  • The United States Navy said it has tightened up oversight of its contracting process, following the "Fat Leonard" corruption case.

    For instance, officers now have to get a written note from a senior officer, in consultation with an ethics counsellor, before they can officiate events or accept gifts in foreign countries.

    This Navy-wide policy directive on ethics and contracting was implemented in November 2014.

    After Leonard Glenn Francis was arrested in September 2013, the US Navy conducted an audit of its husbanding and port services contracts, Navy spokesman Captain Amy Derrick told The Sunday Times.

    A report detailing the Navy's vulnerabilities was put together and recommendations to tighten procedures have been implemented.

    The Navy also stopped all active contracts, task orders and delivery orders with Francis' company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, said Capt Derrick.

    Corporate governance expert Mak Yuen Teen noted that the defence industry is particularly vulnerable to bribery and corruption. "It is usually not that transparent, and contracts tend to be large and don't come along all the time."

    The industry, which is characterised by strong chains of command and obeying orders, might also create an environment where blowing the whistle on crooked officers is frowned upon, he added.

    "Those at the top probably thought they could get away with it as their underlings were unlikely to squeal on them."

The corruption scandal that has engulfed the US Navy over the past four years has only deepened as more details emerge.

From meals of suckling pig and the services of prostitutes to cash gifts and designer furniture, Francis was lavish in allegedly showering US Navy officers and civilian contractors with bribes for almost a decade, according to the court papers that The Sunday Times has obtained.

In return, he received classified information and opportunities to overbill the US Navy. His company, Glenn Defence Marine Asia (GDMA), provided ship chandling services - coordinating, scheduling and procuring items or services for vessels directed to ports in places such as Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Singapore was where some of the perks were exercised - Francis' targets were wooed with plane tickets here, hotel stays, paid expenses and prostitutes' services, according to the court papers.

It was in Singapore where Francis lived and his company was based. The Penang-born Malaysian moved here after taking over the family business - Glenn Marine Enterprise - from his father.

Court papers from 2013 said the then 49-year-old was a divorcee with four children. One was a son studying at Boston University in the US. The other children, aged five, six and seven, lived in Malaysia where they went to school and were cared for by his mother, 70. It is not known where Francis' ex-wife is, but it was reported in 2012 that she was a 30-year-old housewife.

In Singapore, Francis worked his network of contacts. He was well known among ambassadors and other diplomats in South-east Asia who regularly commended him and his company on their service, said his previous lawyer Edward Swan. He was also known for his eccentric largesse - especially within the American community in Singapore.

In 2005, GDMA became one of the biggest sponsors for the American Association of Singapore's Independence Day celebrations. Mr John Driscoll, 63, a semiretired oil trader, was the organiser for annual celebrations from 1997 to 2007. "I was just told by US military personnel that this guy was going to pick up the tab, but the strange part is that I never got to meet him. I don't even think he attended the celebrations," he told The Sunday Times. "He was kind of like a mystery donor."

He said Francis had made requests for certain performances during the celebrations, such as bag pipers: "It was quite unusual but we accommodated, seeing as he was a very generous donor."

GENEROUS SPONSOR

I was just told by US military personnel that this guy was going to pick up the tab, but the strange part is that I never got to meet him. I don't even think he attended the celebrations. He was kind of like a mystery donor.

MR JOHN DRISCOLL, 63, a semi-retired oil trader, on the American Association of Singapore's Independence Day celebrations.

The Sunday Times understands GDMA made the largest cash donation of $25,000 for the 2005 Independence Day event and chartered transport between the event located at Sembawang Terror Club, a community club in Deptford Road for visiting sailors and their families, and Sembawang MRT station.

GDMA is believed to have remained a major sponsor of the Independence Day celebrations up till the time Francis was caught.

When The Sunday Times visited the Sembawang Terror Club two weeks ago, an employee of the US Navy, who declined to be named, said they were not allowed to talk about the "Fat Leonard" case as it would affect investigations.

 

He also declined comment on whether he had met Francis or if the man was a familiar figure around the community there.

 

What is known is that Francis also lived large at his 28,000 sq ft Nassim Road bungalow. He was famed for grand Christmas displays at his rented property that rivalled nearby Orchard Road's. He reportedly spent up to $100,000 on decorations in his driveway, including a nativity scene, curtains of white LED and fairy lights and a 15m tree.

Meanwhile, the extravagence of the bribery scheme extended to widespread debauchery, including a 2008 "raging multi-day party, with a rotating carousel of prostitutes, during which the conspirators drank all of the Dom Perignon available at the Shangri-La (hotel)" in Manila, reported wire agency Agence France-Presse.

The party has since ended.

In 2013, Francis was nabbed in California in a sting operation by US federal agents. According to the US Department of Justice releases, the scandal has now grown to include 25 named defendants, with at least two Singaporeans and 20 current or former US Navy personnel, and over 200 others under investigation.

Soon after his arrest, Francis' family moved out of the grand mansion near Orchard Road. Mr Ismail said he saw moving trucks with Malaysian licence plates parked outside the house back then and recalled staff of the residence saying the family was moving back to Malaysia.

"His picture was splashed all over the newspapers and television, and that's how I found out about his arrest. I've never spoken to him before. He seemed like a good man, but I guess you never know."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 02, 2017, with the headline 'Living large and loose'. Print Edition | Subscribe