A defence contractor to the US Navy known in military circles as “Fat Leonard” is being investigated over allegations he bribed senior admirals with prostitution services, Lady Gaga concerts and tickets to see The Lion King.
Federal investigators have filed court papers which could see the influential Malaysian Leonard Francis jailed for up to five years, and a San Diego hearing on 8 November is expected to set a date for the trial which will explore allegations of serious national security breaches and corruption.
The documents before the court allege that Navy commander Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz accepted bribes in exchange for passing on confidential information on routes taken by US Naval vessels.
Mr Francis is the head of the Singapore-based company Glenn Defence Marine Asia Ltd. (GDMA), and according to investigators he worked with Cmdr Misiewicz to move ships “like chess pieces”, diverting them with little notice through ports where oversight was slight.
GDMA would then overcharge the Navy by millions of dollars to provide fuel, food and other “services” and make up costly tariffs set by fake port authorities, the criminal complaint said.
So far the US authorities have arrested Cmdr Misiewicz and Mr Francis, as well as GDMA’s manager for government contracts Alex Wisidagama. All have pleaded not guilty.
They have also detained a senior Naval investigator, John Beliveau II, who faces accusations that he kept Mr Francis abreast of the probe and advised him on how to respond in exchange for perks such as luxury trips and prostitution services.
“It's pretty big when you have one person who can dictate where ships are going to go and being influenced by a contractor,” said retired Rear Admiral Terry McKnight, who has no direct knowledge of the investigation. “A lot of people are saying how could this happen?”
Speaking about Mr Francis, Admiral McKnight said: “He's a larger-than-life figure. You talk to any captain on any ship that has sailed in the Pacific and they will know exactly who he is.”
The court documents go into some detail about the alleged bribes taken by Cmdr Misiewicz. In one example his family are said to have been to see a production of The Lion King in Tokyo with a GDMA employee, and investigators believe he was later offered prostitution services.
Within months of that evening, the Navy commander was forwarding details of movement schedules for the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group and other ships straight to Mr Francis, the prosecution alleges.
Shortly after that, they say, the GDMA manager wrote to Mr Francis: “We got him!!:)”
Cmdr Misiewicz would refer to Mr Francis as “Big Brother” or “Big Bro” in emails from a personal account, while Mr Francis would call him “Little Brother” or “Little Bro”.
In all, US Attorney Laura Duffy said, the company defrauded the Navy out of $10 million in just one year in Thailand alone.
The federal government has suspended its contracts with Francis. If convicted, the defendants face up to five years in prison for conspiracy to commit bribery.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press