How 'Fat Leonard' bribed the Navy to get US diplomatic immunity
By CRAIG WHITLOCK | The Washington Post | Published: June 16, 2017
"Fat Leonard" ran a lot of corrupt schemes with the help of the U.S. Navy, but one of the strangest may be the time he was granted U.S. diplomatic immunity.
For more than a year, the Singapore-based defense contractor bribed the naval attache at the U.S. Embassy in Manila to enable his firm to smuggle maritime cargo into the Philippines under U.S. diplomatic cover, according to federal court records.
The illicit deal granted the contractor, whose real name is Leonard Glenn Francis, diplomatic clearance for his ships to visit Philippine ports without being subject to inspections, custom duties or taxes from local authorities, the records show.
Federal prosecutors say Francis exploited his diplomatic protection to bring armed Nepali soldiers - known as Gurkhas - into Philippine waters to serve as private security guards. At one point, Francis employed about 30 Gurkhas to deter pirates in Southeast Asia, according to two former business associates.
The unusual arrangement is revealed in a plea deal between the Justice Department and the naval attache, Michael George Brooks, a Navy captain who was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Manila between 2006 and 2008. He has since retired.
On Friday, Brooks, 59, was sentenced to 41 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino during a hearing in federal court in San Diego.
Brooks, a resident of Fairfax Station, Virginia, had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery. He has admitted to accepting prostitutes, family vacations and other favors from Francis while he was stationed in the Philippines.
Brooks is one of 21 Navy officials who have been charged or convicted in the case, which has emerged as the worst corruption scandal in Navy history. Prosecutors and Navy officials have said more than 200 people are under scrutiny, including 30 admirals.
Francis's company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, held contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to resupply and refuel U.S. Navy vessels in Asia. A Malaysian citizen, Francis was arrested in a sting operation in San Diego in 2013 and has since pleaded guilty to defrauding the Navy of at least $35 million. Four of his employees have also pleaded guilty.
Under its contracts with the Navy, Glenn Defense was responsible for providing port security for U.S. vessels and for helping to protect sailors during port visits. Court records do not specify whether Francis sought to use the Gurkhas to provide security for U.S. ships or personnel.
Ethan Posner, an attorney for Francis, said that Glenn Defense "and Mr. Francis are very proud of their long history of securing naval vessels and naval personnel throughout the Pacific." He declined further comment.
The Gurkhas were often deployed aboard the Glenn Braveheart, a former British warship that Francis bought and refurbished, two former business associates of Francis told The Post. When in port, Francis would sometimes turn the Braveheart into a giant party boat, with prostitutes in the wardroom to entertain U.S. officers, court records show.
In his plea agreement, Brooks has admitted to giving Francis sensitive Navy documents about warship deployments, rigging Navy business for his firm and working to undercut his competitors. In emails, the military officer repeatedly referred to Francis as "boss."
In exchange, Francis supplied prostitutes for the Navy captain on "dozens of occasions," according to the plea agreement. Brooks would arrange for paid sex by emailing Francis in coded language, referring to prostitutes as "mocha shakes" or "chocolate boosters."
In May 2008, court documents show, Francis spent more than $50,000 on hotel rooms and alcohol during an epic party in Manila to entertain Brooks and a half-dozen senior officers from the USS Blue Ridge, the command flagship for the Navy's 7th Fleet.
The party unfolded over four days at the Mandarin Oriental and the Makati Shangri-La hotels, where the Navy officers drank the entire inventory of Dom Pérignon champagne and were entertained by "a rotating carousel of prostitutes," according to court filings by prosecutors.
Brooks, who lived in Manila with his family, would show up at the party at the end of each day with his own prostitute, according to prosecutors.
Attorneys for Brooks did not respond to multiple requests for comment. In a court filing, his lawyers said he "made a serious mistake" and lost his "moral compass" by becoming involved with Francis.
During his time in the Philippines, they said, Brooks's relationship with his wife and children became frayed, and he became "especially vulnerable to the allure of the partying culture of the Philippines and the draw of Leonard Francis."
Besides Brooks, federal agents are investigating Francis's connections to several other U.S. diplomatic personnel who served as naval or defense attaches at embassies in Southeast Asia, according to sources familiar with the case.
In February, the Navy announced that it had reprimanded and fined a rear admiral, Adrian Jansen, the former naval attache to Indonesia and defense attache to China, for accepting wine and meals worth more than $5,000 from Francis.