Fat Leonard – from big life to even bigger trouble

In the spotlight: Fat Leonard, who got his nickname due to his physique, is back in the news after giving US federal authorities the slip.

PETALING JAYA: He started with having a couple of guns and was charged with possession of firearms when he was just 21. By the time he was 24, he was in jail.

But Penang-born Leonard Glenn Francis was not one to let that stop him. By the time was in his 50s, he had the US Navy “under his control”.

He became a world-class firearms dealer, bribing US Navy officers with cash, escorts and luxury items to win contracts or get classified information that benefited his firm, the Singapore-based Glenn Defence Marine Asia (GDMA).

Fat Leonard, who got his nickname due to his 160kg physique when he was young, is back in the news now.

The man has given US federal authorities the slip, somehow cutting off his ankle monitor and escaping from where he was being held under house arrest in San Diego, California – days before he was due to be sentenced for what is touted as the US Navy’s worst corruption scandal.

The 58-year-old Malaysian defence contractor was arrested in September 2013 on fraud and bribery charges after federal investigators lured him to San Diego on the pretext of a business meeting with US Navy officials.

In a tell-all podcast with host and journalist Tom Wright in 2021, Francis boasted about his ties with the US Navy, saying: “Everybody was in my pocket. I had them in my palm. I was just rolling them around.”

Francis said he wielded so much influence over the commanding officers that he could just say the word and they “would just move the ships for me”.

“I’m non-military, I’m just a civilian, I’m not a US citizen and I had that command over all those senior naval officers,” he said.

After his arrest, he was jailed for over four years before being moved to house arrest in 2018 after being diagnosed with kidney cancer.

Prison is something he has known since young.

In 1989, the then 24-year-old was jailed for 36 months by the High Court in Penang on two counts of firearms possession.

He was first charged in the Sessions Court with having two .38 Special Smith & Wesson revolvers in 1986.

An impassioned appeal by his mother – she claimed she had neglected him and that he had a philandering father – led to the Sessions Court binding him over.

The High Court, however, was not so generous when the prosecution appealed.

Justice Edgar Joseph Jr sentenced him to 18 months on each count and six strokes of the rotan as well.

The judge ruled that the court must mete out a jail sentence and whipping of no fewer than six strokes.

In 2013, The Star also reported that Francis lived a “larger than life” lifestyle according to accounts from his acquaintances and other sources.

A family acquaintance said it was hard to miss the well-spoken British-educated Francis in social events.

“He has a penchant for big cars, big homes and the big life,” the acquaintance was reported as saying.

“I saw a couple of Hummers, a Rolls Royce and a Mercedes, all which carry the registration number 1,” he said, adding that the palatial home had a swimming pool and no fewer than three maids.

A source was also reported as saying that Francis had property around the world, such as in the US and Japan, and led a lavish lifestyle with parties constantly on the calendar.

Francis also made headlines across the Causeway for his Christmas decorations outside his 6,503sq m bungalow in Nassim Road in 2010.

Singaporean newspapers reported that the decorations rivalling those at Orchard Road cost S$100,000 (RM320,000).

Following his arrest in 2013, Francis pleaded guilty to bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to defraud the US in January 2015, and was set to be sentenced on Sept 22.

He also admitted to using his US Navy contacts, including ship captains, to obtain classified information and to defraud the US Navy of tens of millions of dollars by steering ships to specific ports in the Pacific and falsifying service charges.

In his plea, Francis identified seven US Navy officials who had accepted bribes.

He faces a maximum sentence of 25 years’ jail and agreed to forfeit US$35mil (RM146mil) in personal assets, an amount he admitted to overcharging the US Navy.

The US Justice Department, which called the scheme a colossal fraud that cost the US Navy tens of millions of dollars, brought charges against more than 30 people, many of whom pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial.

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