Fugitive Malaysian 'Fat Leonard' caught in Venezuela

PETALING JAYA - The Venezuelan authorities have apprehended Malaysian fugitive Leonard Glenn Francis, commonly known as "Fat Leonard", after he disappeared on Sept 4.

According to United States news outlet NBCNews.com, Penang-born Francis was nabbed by the Venezuelan authorities at Caracas airport as he was about to fly to another country.

The Venezuelan authorities had been made aware by Interpol that he was on the run, the United States Marshals Service told NBC.

Francis, 58, had been under house arrest in San Diego, California, and was weeks away from sentencing after pleading guilty in 2015 to bribery and agreeing to forfeit US$35 million (S$50 million) in ill-gotten gains.

He had been on the run since he cut off his ankle bracelet on Sept 4.

The US Marshals Service's wanted poster on him said he weighed 158kg and is nearly 1.9m tall.

American journalists Tom Wright and Bradley Hope had just days ago said through their global journalism and production studio Project Brazen that the fugitive was in Venezuela with his adult son.

In their weekly newsletter, Whale Hunting, the journalists said they had "information" that Francis was in Venezuela after fleeing San Diego.

Francis has a US$40,000 bounty on his head put up by the US Marshals Service.

The newsletter said Venezuelan police arrested him as he boarded a flight to Russia.

From home detention in San Diego, Francis had escaped over the border into Mexico, and then to Cuba and Venezuela, according to a Venezuelan police officer on Instagram as quoted by Mr Wright in the newsletter.

The two journalists, who worked for the Wall Street Journal, wrote the best-selling book, Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, And The World. The book was about another Malaysian fugitive, Jho Low, and how he allegedly masterminded the theft of billions of dollars from state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

As for Francis, he is said to have begun his career of corrupting the United States military when he was invited to an Independence Day celebration held by the US Embassy in Malaysia, where he met naval officers and attaches.

Prosecutors said the navy officers were feted with expensive meals, luxury hotel rooms and entertainment by prostitutes paid for by Francis, and offered bribes for classified information.

The officers also abused their navy positions to ensure that ships berthing at ports were serviced by his Singapore-based company, Glenn Defence Marine Asia.

Ten US federal state and local agencies were ordered to hunt for him after he escaped from San Diego.

On Sept 6, media reports said he was on the run three weeks before he was to begin his potentially up to 25-year prison sentence. This followed his guilty plea to being involved in what has been described as the US Navy's worst corruption scandal.

According to that plea agreement, Francis paid about US$500,000 in bribes to navy officials.

Media reports last Friday said one of the five US Navy officers embroiled in the scandal, former rear-admiral Bruce Loveless, was now off the hook after San Diego federal prosecutors dismissed charges against him.

Four other officers - former commander Mario Herrera and former captains David Newland, James Dolan and David Lausman - were convicted of conspiracy, bribery and other charges.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2022, with the headline Fugitive Malaysian 'Fat Leonard' caught in Venezuela. Subscribe