‘Fat Leonard,’ fugitive in U.S. Navy scandal, caught in Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela — Authorities in Venezuela apprehended the Malaysian protection contractor referred to as “Fat Leonard” after he escaped his sentencing within the U.S. Navy’s worst bribery scandal, Interpol introduced Wednesday.

The announcement got here simply earlier than his listening to in the USA over a $35 million plot that embroiled scores of Navy officers for a few years.

In an investigation that uncovered a staggering degree of corruption throughout the Navy, Leonard Glenn Francis pleaded responsible in 2015 to bribing officers with money, intercourse events and items to get confidential data he might use to defraud the Navy.

The hunt for Francis ended together with his seize at Simón Bolívar Worldwide Airport in Maiquetía earlier than he might flee the Venezuelan capital, Interpol’s Venezuela director common, Carlos Gáfee Rondón, stated Wednesday. He stated the fugitive traveled to Venezuela from Mexico, with a layover in Cuba, on his technique to his last vacation spot: Russia. Gáfee stated Francis could be handed over to judicial authorities to start the paperwork for extradition.

Prostitutes, holidays and money: The Navy officers ‘Fat Leonard’ took down

The query now could be whether or not Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro will permit his extradition. The US doesn’t acknowledge Maduro’s authorities as reputable; the nations reduce diplomatic relations in 2019. Since then, U.S. prosecutors have indicted Maduro and several other members of his internal circle on prices of narcoterrorism.

Maduro has sought aid from U.S. sanctions; Francis might turn into a helpful bargaining chip.

Venezuelan authorities usually arrest Pink Discover topics, together with these requested by the USA, in accordance with Alí Daniels, director of the Venezuelan advocacy group Entry to Justice. They’ve an curiosity in complying with Interpol notices, he stated, so different governments will reply to their notices.

However extradition is a much more difficult course of. An extradition would require U.S. officers to submit paperwork to Venezuela’s overseas ministry. It could then be topic to the Maduro authorities’s approval. That hasn’t occurred for the reason that U.S. authorities accused Maduro of election fraud and acknowledged opposition politician Juan Guaidó because the nation’s reputable president.

A U.S. request for extradition “would be a victory for Maduro,” Daniels stated, “because they would be recognizing him as the government of Venezuela.”

Venezuelan intelligence analyst and prison investigator Iván Simonovis stated the arrest demonstrates how “desperate” Nicolás Maduro is to barter with the USA.

“Can you imagine how much this man is worth to the regime?” requested Simonovis, a former Venezuelan police chief who participated in two extradition processes earlier than Hugo Chávez based the socialist state now headed by Maduro. “This is a very-high profile case, ideal for the regime to begin to negotiate.”

There have been indicators relations between the nations are starting to thaw. Biden administration officers made a uncommon journey to Maduro’s presidential palace in March to safe the discharge of two detained Individuals and focus on U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan oil, searching for partly to handle hovering fuel costs and partly to drive a wedge between Caracas and its shut ally Russia. The administration has begun to ease some restrictions on the principle U.S. oil firm with belongings in Venezuela.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken introduced almost $376 million in new humanitarian help “to respond to the needs of vulnerable Venezuelans” in Venezuela and overseas.

Geoff Ramsey, Venezuela director on the Washington Workplace on Latin America, stated Francis is “quite an attractive target for the Biden administration and it’s no secret that the Maduro regime has been looking for a prison swap.” However he stated “the Biden administration is unlikely to provide significant concessions in return.”

Francis, a Singapore-based businessman whose firm serviced Navy ships, fled home arrest in San Diego this month by reducing off his GPS bracelet.

Earlier than his apprehension, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Naval Legal Investigative Service supplied a mixed $40,000 reward for data on his whereabouts.

‘Fat Leonard’ escapes weeks earlier than sentencing in Navy bribery scandal

U.S. prosecutors have accused him of an effort to swindle the navy department out of almost $35 million by his agency, Glenn Protection Marine.

Navy personnel consumed or pocketed about $1 million in bribes, together with connoisseur meals, Cuban cigars, airline tickets and a celebration described as a “rotating carousel of prostitutes,” a Washington Publish investigation discovered.

In return, Francis obtained recommendations on marine actions and assist rerouting vessels to win contracts within the Asia-Pacific area. Bribes additionally included tickets to a Girl Gaga live performance, in accordance with court docket paperwork.

Leaks, feasts and intercourse events: How ‘Fat Leonard’ infiltrated the Navy’s floating headquarters in Asia

The scandal erupted in a 2013 sting operation at a San Diego resort. After pleading responsible, Francis — who was referred to as “Leonard the Legend” in some Navy circles — cooperated with prosecutors constructing instances towards others within the plot.

Legal prices had been filed towards greater than 30 individuals. Lots of of navy personnel — together with some 60 admirals — got here underneath scrutiny. Many had been cleared of wrongdoing, The Publish has reported.

Craig Whitlock and María Luisa Paúl contributed to this report.

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