Who Is ‘Fat Leonard’? Venezuela Prisoner Swap Convict Is Former Navy Contractor Guilty Of Massive Bribery Scandalthedigitalchaps



“Fat Leonard” Francis, a former U.S. Navy defense contractor accused of bribing military officials over the course of nearly a decade, is set to return to U.S. custody as part of a prisoner swap deal with Venezuela—just over one year after he escaped from house arrest in San Diego and fled to South America.

Key Facts

Francis, a Malaysian national, operated Glenn Defense Marine Asia, a defense contracting business in Singapore that provided ship services for the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet in Southeast Asia.

Francis was charged with bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. after federal agents lured him to San Diego in 2013.

He pleaded guilty in 2015, naming seven Navy officers who accepted bribes or passed along classified intel—but dozens more have since been implicated and investigated in the scandal.

According to the plea agreement, Francis admitted to bribing U.S. Navy officers with cash, prostitutes, business class flights, visits to luxury hotels and spas, lavish meals of Kobe beef and Spanish suckling pig and outlandish gifts that included Cuban cigars, hand-made ship models and an ornamental sword.

The officers then looked the other way when Francis overbilled the U.S. Navy for services like fueling, tugboat service and sewage disposal for over $35 million—which he agreed to return alongside restitution, an amount that has not yet been determined.

Francis faced up to 25 years in prison, but three weeks before his sentencing last year, he escaped his house arrest in San Diego and fled the country—only to be arrested again and placed under home confinement in Venezuela.

Key Background

Leonard was taken into custody as part of a prisoner swap deal brokered by the Biden administration with the government of Venezuela. In exchange for the release of Alex Saab, a Colombian citizen accused of money laundering in the U.S., Venezuela released 20 prisoners, including all 10 Americans currently being held in the country. The White House said six of the Americans were “wrongfully detained,” and repeated the State Department’s warning against traveling in the South American nation.


Among the released Venezuelan prisoners was opposition figure Roberto Abdul, the leader of vote monitoring volunteer organization Súmate, White House officials said. Abdul was arrested and charged with treason alongside other opposition leaders two weeks ago, Reuters reported. Venezuela is scheduled to have a presidential election in 2024, but the country’s last presidential elections were strongly condemned by the U.S. as fraudulent. The White House said it would “continue to closely monitor” the situation in Venezuela leading up to the election.

Further Reading

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