Venezuela: Fat Leonard returned after swap frees Americans
As confirmed by the White House, an infamous fugitive billionaire known as Fat Leonard has been released in exchange for his imprisonment with Venezuela.
Under the alias Leonard Glenn Francis, the fugitive orchestrated a $35 million (£30 million) fraud against the United States Navy. In 2022, he escaped from United States custody. Ten citizens of the United States who were detained in Venezuela were released in accordance with the agreement. The United States, in return, released Alex Saab, a presidential aide in Venezuela.
Francis, the most prominent prisoner implicated in the transaction, was apprehended in September 2022 as he attempted to embark on a flight from Venezuela to Russia while evading capture by United States authorities. Two weeks prior, the Malaysian industrialist managed to evade house arrest in California, where he had been detained subsequent to his confession of involvement in an extensive fraud involving dozens of navy officers and tens of millions of dollars for the United States.
Prosecutors assert that he defrauded the United States Navy using his Singapore-based company, which had contracts to service US naval vessels, while also bribing American officers with cash and gifts.
Francis was charged in court documents submitted in accordance with his plea agreement with presenting gifts to US officials amounting to millions of dollars. The gifts allegedly comprised extravagant travel arrangements, premium wine and alcohol, Spanish suckling piglets, Cuban cigars, and access to prostitution services.
In 2015, Francis admitted culpability for allegedly soliciting bribes totaling $500,000 (£444,000). His initial arrest occurred in 2013. President Joe Biden stated in a statement that Francis will now receive a sentence “befiting his leading role in a flagrant bribery and corruption case.”
With regard to the additional United States citizens who were acquitted by Venezuela, he further stated, “I am relieved that their harrowing ordeal has concluded, and that these families are being reunited.”
The return of Mr. Saab, a close aide to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, is also a component of the trade agreement. He denied allegations that he had participated in money laundering on behalf of the Maduro administration.
US prosecutors allege that Mr. Saab fraudulently obtained $350 million (£276 million) from contracts with the Venezuelan government by taking advantage of favourable exchange rates.
The funds were allegedly subsequently laundered in the United States prior to being transferred to accounts under his and his alleged associate’s control.
Mr. Saab has refuted the allegations, and the Maduro administration has supported him, even withdrawing from negotiations supported by the United States and the Venezuelan opposition in 2021 to protest his extradition. Additionally, Joseph Cristella, Eyvin Hernandez, Jerrel Kenemore, and Savoi Wright were among those released, according to the White House.
Seven incarcerated United States citizens were exchanged for the release of two nephews belonging to the spouse of Mr. Maduro from Venezuela in October 2022.
The bilateral stance further deteriorated in October of this year when the United States consented to a reduction in sanctions against Venezuela in return for President Maduro’s consent to permit international observers to oversee the presidential election of the following year.
Human rights organisations in Venezuela have demanded the release of the nearly 300 individuals they have identified as political prisoners in Venezuelan institutions in response to the news.