Navy corruption investigation expands to 60 admirals
The U.S. Navy scandal known as "Fat Leonard" has expanded to include investigations into the corruption of 60 admirals.
The scandal stems from the activities of a Malaysian contractor Leonard Glenn Francis, who bribed dozens of officers with fancy parties, expensive gifts, and prostitutes in exchange for classified information that helped him win Navy contracts.
So far, 440 officers and enlisted men have been caught up in the scandal.
The Justice Department has already filed criminal charges against 28 people, including two admirals. Francis has pleaded guilty to bribing Navy officials and defrauding the government of more than $35 million, and is awaiting sentencing.
The 60 current and retired admirals now under investigation are about twice as many as Navy officials said were under investigation last year, according to the Post.
The Navy's caseload has grown as the Justice Department has handed it cases that can't be prosecuted in civilian court but may be offenses in the military justice system, the Post reported.
The Navy has so far charged five people with crimes under military law, according to the Post, which cited charging documents. None of them were admirals.
The Navy has also concluded that 230 people under review were not guilty of misconduct, a Navy official told the Post. Many attended dinners or accepted gifts from Francis, but the Navy found there were extenuating circumstances that excused their actions, according to the Post.
Meanwhile, 40 cases of people violating ethics rules or other regulations have been handled administratively, meaning punishment did not involve criminal charges, the Post added.
In many cases, the military's statutes of limitations prevented the Navy from taking tougher action, according to the Post. For most felonies, the statute of limitations is five years. The oldest incident reviewed so far was from 1992, while most happened between 2004 and 2010, the Navy official told the Post.
Some might consider this behavior – parties, prostitutes, and accepting gifts – as little more than business as usual. Perhaps some discipline is required, but criminal charges?
Bu all means, yes. This is a dark stain on the Navy and easily one of the biggest scandals in U.S. military history. Vox explains what Francis was able to accomplish by bribing naval officers.
As the Washington Post reports, the Singapore-based Francis bribed officers of the Navy's Seventh Fleet – the service's largest fleet that operates in Asia – with gifts like prostitutes, money, and vacations while they docked in his ports from Russia to Australia. In exchange, Francis received classified information – including warship and submarine movements – and sensitive contracting developments.
Francis would use that privileged information to get US ships to dock in ports his company controlled. Once there, he would overcharge for "fuel, tugboats, barges, food, water, and sewage removal," the Washington Post reported last year.
This went on for at least a decade until Francis was arrested in a sting operation on September 16, 2013, that spanned three states and seven countries in order to arrest other suspects and obtain relevant files.
Francis did have some help to do his work, though. His four associates recruited Navy officers as moles for the company and submitted fraudulent invoices, according to the Post. They have also pleaded guilty to charges ranging from fraud to conspiracy to defraud the United States.
This kind of scandalous behavior is probably a lot more common than we might believe. The Navy has dozens of ports of call around the world, most run by local companies like Mr. Francis's. Since the contractor has exclusive rights to service U.S. ships, these agreements are extremely lucrative.
Doing business with corrupt companies is a fact of life overseas, and the Navy isn't at all different. But this scandal goes far beyond the kind of mutual back-scratching that is tolerated. Naval officers were bribed to give up classified information and knowingly took part in a scheme to defraud the government. If convicted, they should go to jail.
What's worrisome is the violation of ethics that was apparently commonplace. That's a problem that must be addressed by the Naval Academy, who is supposed to graduate officers with a strong sense of duty and ethics.