US navy commander, Malaysian charged in bribery scandal

A third US Navy commander and a prominent Malaysian business leader were charged yesterday in a widening bribery scandal involving prostitutes, luxury travel and multimillion-dollar government contracts, officials said today.

Commander Jose Luis Sanchez, 41, was arrested Tuesday in Tampa, Florida and made a first appearance in federal court in Florida.

He was charged with taking payoffs from a foreign defence contractor in exchange for classified and internal US Navy information, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Also named in a complaint unsealed Wednesday was Leonard Francis, 49, of Malaysia, the CEO of Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), the department said. He was arrested Septermber 16, 2013, in San Diego, California.

"According to court records, Sanchez allegedly provided Francis with internal Navy information, such as US Navy ship schedules – some of which were classified – and information about husbanding issues that could affect GDMA, in order to help GDMA win and maintain Navy business," the statement added.

Two other top Navy officials – Commander Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz, 46, and Naval Criminal Investigative Service Supervisory Special Agent John Bertrand Beliveau II, 44 – have been charged separately in connection with bribery allegations.

Meanwhile GDMA executive Alex Wisidagama, 40, of Singapore, has also been charged with participating in a related scheme to overbill the Navy for services provided in ports across Southeast Asia, the department said.

"According to the allegations in this case, a number of officials were willing to sacrifice their integrity and millions of taxpayer dollars for personal gratification," said US Attorney Laura Duffy.

"While the overwhelming majority of the 400,000 active duty Navy personnel conduct themselves in a manner that is beyond reproach, we and our law enforcement partners at Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Defense Criminal Investigative Service continue to investigate the allegations of fraud and corruption that tarnish the stellar reputation of the US Navy," she said.

Misiewicz, who commanded a destroyer and served as deputy operations officer for the head of the Seventh Fleet in the Pacific, has been charged in the case, as well as a supervisory special agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).

Federal authorities allege that Misiewicz, who fled the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia as a child and was adopted by an American woman, directed ships to certain ports where the Singapore-based firm overcharged for fuel, food, water and other services.

Misiewicz in return was allegedly given access to prostitutes, free travel and even tickets to a Lady Gaga concert.

The firm cited by federal prosecutors is Glenn Defense Marine Asia, and the CEO, Leonard Francis, has been charged, along with Misiewicz and the NCIS agent, with conspiracy to commit bribery.

In one email, GDMA's chief refers to certain prostitutes in Thailand as his "Elite Thai Seal Team."

After naval authorities began investigating the firm for possible overcharging for services, the accused NCIS agent, John Beliveau, allegedly supplied the head of GDMA with sensitive information about the probe, according to federal prosecutors.

The criminal complaint also alleges that "in an alleged December 2, 2011, email discussion in which Sanchez told Francis about the status of an investigation of GDMA, Francis replied: "I have inside Intel from NCIS and read all the reports. I will show you a copy of a Classified Command File on me from NCIS ha ha."

The US Attorney's Office in San Diego first announced the case last month. – AFP, November 7, 2013.