Fugitive businessman 'Fat Leonard' to seek asylum in Venezuela -reports

CARACAS - A fugitive Malaysian businessman nicknamed 'Fat Leonard' who is at the center of a major U.S. Navy bribery scandal wants to seek political asylum in Venezuela after being detained in the country last week, local media said Monday.

Leonard Glenn Francis (pic) was arrested on Sept. 21 at the international airport outside Caracas as he prepared to leave for Russia. He was under a red notification requested by the United States, Interpol's Venezuela chief said, adding that authorities were planning to begin his extradition procedure.

Venezuela's government-allied newspaper Ultimas Noticias, citing judicial sources, reported on Monday that the businessman appeared the next day in a court in Caracas.

He reportedly told the hearing that he wanted to stay in Venezuela to appeal for political asylum and that he was suffering from metastatic kidney cancer, the newspaper said.

Neither Venezuela's Information Ministry nor its Attorney General's Office immediately responded to a request for comment.

Francis arrived in Venezuela via Mexico and Cuba, and planned to continue to Russia, last week's Interpol statement said.

The Malaysian businessman removed his monitoring anklet and escaped house arrest in the United States earlier this month ahead of his impending sentencing, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Prosecutors in the case said that in exchange for classified information and contracts, Francis had plied Navy officers with cash, gourmet food, expensive cigars, rare cognac and wild sex parties in fancy hotels.

He pleaded guilty to bribery in January 2015 and agreed to forfeit $35 million in ill-gotten gains. According to that plea agreement, Francis paid about $500,000 in bribes to Navy officials.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera, Writing by Isabel Woodford, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

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