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‘Fats Leonard’ could also be Venezuela bargaining chip, consultants say


SAN DIEGO (AP) — A fugitive protection contractor nicknamed “Fats Leonard” who claims to have incriminating intercourse pictures of U.S. Navy brass might turn into the most recent bargaining chip in Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s efforts to win official recognition from the Biden administration, in line with consultants.

However it’s unclear how onerous the U.S. authorities will combat for the return of Leonard Glenn Francis, the Malaysian proprietor of a ship servicing firm in Southeast Asia who’s the central character in one of many largest bribery scandals in Pentagon historical past.

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He fled residence custody in San Diego on Sept. 4 and was arrested by Venezuelan police Tuesday trying to board a flight on the Simon Bolivar Worldwide Airport exterior Caracas. Francis had his first courtroom look Thursday, in line with a regulation enforcement official in Venezuela who spoke Friday to The Related Press on situation of anonymity as a result of he was not licensed to debate judicial proceedings.

The official, who had been briefed on the case, stated now it’s as much as the USA to make the following transfer. U.S. authorities have 30 days to formally request his extradition, one thing that the official considered as unlikely provided that the Biden administration acknowledges opposition chief Juan Guaido — not Maduro — because the nation’s legit ruler.

Venezuela and the USA have an extradition settlement nevertheless it’s not clear if U.S. authorities have made a proper request. In an e mail, a Division of Justice spokesperson stated the company doesn’t touch upon extradition-related issues. Even below regular circumstances, extraditions can take many months and even years to finish.

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The Biden administration doesn’t formally acknowledge Maduro’s socialist authorities, has no embassy in Venezuela and has imposed crushing sanctions on the nation which have additional embittered relations.

U.S. indictments in opposition to Maduro and a number of other members of his inside circle on narco-terrorism or cash laundering expenses has been a serious irritant between the international locations. Essentially the most critical case includes businessman Alex Saab, who was apprehended on a U.S. warrant in 2020 whereas making a gasoline cease in Cape Verde en path to Iran. Maduro considers Saab a Venezuelan diplomat and has spared no effort preventing to convey him again.

“I’ve little question the Venezuelans will make hay of (Francis’ arrest), particularly as a result of they’ve felt the consequences of the lengthy arm of the U.S. justice system,” stated David Smilde, a longtime professional on Venezuela who teaches at Tulane College.

Francis is the mastermind of an enormous bribery scheme that ensnared dozens of Navy officers. Francis admitted to wooing them with intercourse events in Asia in alternate for categorised info on Navy ship routes that he used to profit his Singapore-based firm.

Francis pleaded responsible in 2015 and confronted as much as 25 years in jail. Whereas awaiting sentencing, he was given residence confinement in San Diego to obtain medical care. He supplied info to U.S. prosecutors that secured the convictions of 33 of 34 defendants.

However with the case nearing its finish and his sentencing listening to simply weeks away, he reduce off his ankle monitor and disappeared throughout the border into Mexico. Venezuelan authorities say he then went to Cuba after which Venezuela, and was planning to go to Russia when he was apprehended.

In his heyday, the towering man with a large girth and gregarious character wielded enormous affect as a essential level of contact for U.S. Navy ships throughout Asia. His household’s ship servicing enterprise, Singapore-based Glenn Protection Marine Asia Ltd. or GDMA, equipped meals, water and gasoline to vessels for many years.

He plied officers with Kobe beef, costly cigars, live performance tickets and intercourse events at luxurious resorts from Thailand to the Philippines. In alternate, commanders went so far as steering their ships, largely from the Navy’s seventh Fleet, to ports he managed so he might cowl up as a lot as $35 million in pretend expenses.

It’s unclear what info, if any, Francis has that would convey additional embarrassment to the U.S. Navy. Nonetheless, Smilde stated he wouldn’t be stunned to see Francis pop up in a Venezuelan-government produced confession video hinting that he has extra salacious particulars.

“I’m certain the Venezuelans would enjoyment of that,” he stated.

Neither U.S. nor Venezuelan officers have launched particulars about how Francis spent his time on the run or what he deliberate to do in Russia, however his travels to 3 international locations in a interval of two weeks point out he had entry to cash and different assist.

It’s unclear if Francis had contacts in Russia providing to guard him, and if he did, what they wished in return. Francis bragged about nonetheless holding compromising pictures and movies of Navy officers.

“What actually frightened the USA probably the most was these officers being corrupted by me, that they’d be corruptible by the overseas powers,” Francis stated in an interview with podcaster Tom Wright, who created a nine-part collection on the case final yr.

Jason Forge, a former federal prosecutor in San Diego concerned in high-profile extradition instances out of Mexico, stated Francis might attempt to persuade Venezuela that he’s acquired one thing to supply, however Forge doubts he really does. Francis, who was put below home arrest after present process surgical procedures, in line with courtroom paperwork, additionally has been a pricey prisoner due to his failing well being.

“Even assuming he has embarrassing pictures and movies of varied naval officers, except they’re of Hunter Biden at one of many events, I simply don’t see the U.S. caring,” he stated, referring to Biden’s son.

U.S. officers level out that Venezuela doesn’t seem to have stopped Francis on his method into the nation and will simply deport him on their very own with none judicial continuing.


Goodman reported from Miami.

Copyright 2022 The Related Press. All rights reserved. This materials will not be revealed, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed with out permission.


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