Fugitive arrested in Venezuela in case of bribes in the US

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A Malaysian national who was a US defense contractor has been arrested in Venezuela after fleeing before his sentence, authorities said. Leonard Glenn Francis, nicknamed “Fat Leonard,” orchestrated one of the largest bribery scandals in US military history.

The international manhunt for Francis ended with his arrest by Venezuelan authorities Tuesday morning at the Caracas airport as he was about to board a plane to another country, the US Marshals Service said Wednesday.

Francis had traveled to Venezuela from Mexico with a stopover in Cuba, explained the director general of Interpol Venezuela, Carlos Garate Rondon, in a statement posted on Instagram. Francis was on his way to Russia and was arrested at the main international airport in Caracas, the agency added.

The arrest came on the eve of his scheduled sentencing in federal court in California for a bribery scheme that lasted more than a decade and involved dozens of US Navy officers.

There was no information at the moment about when he could be extradited to the United States.

At Thursday’s sentencing hearing, Federal District Court Judge Janis Sammartino confirmed that Francis was being held in Venezuela and that a “no bail warrant” had been issued against him.

“This turn of events raises a number of questions, and it will obviously have an impact on other cases,” he said. A sentencing hearing for the four Navy officers who were tried in the case and who have already been found guilty has been set for October.

The prosecution asked the court to take into account that Francis did not appear at the sentencing hearing as ordered. Defense attorneys notified the court that they would file a motion to terminate her relationship with Francis due to an “irreparable breakdown of the attorney-client relationship.”

Sammartino has set Francis a status hearing for Dec. 14, with the caveat that all sides could meet sooner depending on how events unfold.

“I think that’s all we can do this morning,” Sammartino added.

The US government will now face a major challenge in returning the fugitive to US soil. The US government does not recognize the socialist government of Nicolás Maduro, does not have an embassy in the South American country and has imposed severe sanctions on the country, which has further cooled bilateral relations. Police cooperation between the two countries is rare.

Francis was under house arrest in San Diego when he cut and removed a geolocator anklet on Sept. 4 before escaping. Ten US agencies searched for Francis and authorities issued a $40,000 reward for his arrest.

US authorities also issued a red notice, asking law enforcement around the world to provisionally arrest someone who is potentially extraditable. Malaysia and Singapore have extradition agreements with the United States.

Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 to offering prostitution services, luxury hotels, cigars, gourmet meals and more than $500,000 in bribes to Navy officials and others to help his ship servicing company Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd. or GDMA, based in Singapore. Prosecutors said the company charged the Navy at least $35 million to service the ships, many of which were shipped to ports it controlled in the Pacific.

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