November 4, 2013

Fraud probe could ensnare more Navy officials

The multimillion-dollar scheme is being laid out in court documents and has led to four arrests so far.

By Julie Watson
The Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — It started with an invitation to the Broadway production of “The Lion King” in Tokyo for the Navy commander, his wife and their children.

click image to enlarge

U.S. Navy commander Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz emotionally embraces his aunt in 2010 in his native Cambodia, where he had been rescued as a child from the violence of the Khmer Rouge and adopted by an American. Now he’s accused of passing confidential information on Navy ship routes to a Singapore-based company in order to help facilitate a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme.

AP File Photo/Heng Sinith

In the end, the Malaysian defense contractor known in military circles as “Fat Leonard” would use prostitutes, plane tickets and other bribes to hook the U.S. Navy officer into a scheme that overbilled the Pentagon by millions, investigators say in court papers.

The accusations unfolding in a federal court case in San Diego signal serious national security breaches and corruption, setting off high-level meetings at the Pentagon with the threat that more people, including those of higher ranks, could be swept up as the investigation continues. A hearing Friday could set a trial date.

According to the court documents, Navy commander Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz passed confidential information on ship routes to Leonard Francis’ Singapore-based company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd.

Misiewicz and Francis moved Navy vessels like chess pieces, diverting aircraft carriers, destroyers and other ships to Asian ports with lax oversight where Francis could inflate costs, the criminal complaint alleges. The firm overcharged the Navy millions for fuel, food and other services it provided, and invented tariffs by using phony port authorities, prosecutors say.

So far, authorities have arrested Misiewicz; Francis; the general manager of global government contracts for Francis’ company, Alex Wisidagama; and a senior Navy investigator, John Beliveau II.

Beliveau is accused of keeping Francis abreast of the probe and advising him on how to respond in exchange for such things as luxury trips and prostitution services. All have pleaded not guilty. Defense attorneys declined to comment.

Francis is legendary in military circles in that part of the world, said McKnight, who does not know him personally. He is known for extravagance. His 70,000-square-foot bungalow in an upscale Singapore neighborhood has drawn spectators yearly since 2007 to its lavish outdoor Christmas decorations, which a Singapore newspaper described as rivaling the island city-state’s main shopping street with replicas of snowmen, towering lighted trees, and Chinese and Japanese ornaments.

“He’s a larger-than-life figure,” McKnight said. “You talk to any captain on any ship that has sailed in the Pacific and they will know exactly who he is.”

In 2010, Misiewicz caught the world’s attention when he made an emotional return as a U.S. Navy commander to his native Cambodia, where he had been rescued as a child from the violence of the Khmer Rouge and adopted by an American woman. His homecoming was widely covered by international media.

Meanwhile, Francis was recruiting him for his scheme, according to court documents.

The company bilked the Navy out of $10 million in just one year in Thailand alone, said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy.

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