The Navy's bribery and prostitution scandal is even worse than it looks

US Navy UNREP Romeo flagUS NavyThe ‘Fat Leonard’ scandal raises a red flag or two for the US Navy

A top US Navy lieutenant commander just became one of the highest-ranking military officials ensnared in the “Fat Leonard” bribery scandal.

On April 15, Todd Maliki admitted “that he accepted cash, hotel expenses and the services of a prostitute in return for providing classified US Navy ship schedules and other internal Navy information to an executive of a defence contracting firm,” according to a Department of Justice press release.

Maliki became the eighth person to plead guilty to accepting favours from a US Navy contractor called Glenn Defence Marine Asia, making him one of the highest-ranking military officials to be convicted in the lurid scandal that defrauded the US military of $US20 million and resulted in the demotion, conviction, censure or punishment of nearly a dozen officials.

The bribery scandal involves a Singapore-based naval company run by Leonard Glenn Francis, which provided various logistical and port-related services for American military vessels operating in Asia. As James Weirick, a Navy lieutenant colonel and judge advocate general explained in an article for Task and Purpose, “Fat Leonard” eventually “admitted to providing Navy officials with millions of dollars in gifts and expenses, including luxury travel, $US500,000 in cash, and prostitutes.”

The bribery paid off handsomely for Francis — at least until the law caught wind of it. “Francis received confidential ship schedules for the Navy’s 7th Fleet, along with pricing information about bids submitted by competitors,” Weirick recounts. He used this information to snag additional contracts for Glenn Defence Marine Asia and overcharge US taxpayers by some $US20 million — although “Fat Leonard” and his company had to forfeit $US35 million after the fraud was exposed. Francis pleaded guilty to a variety of bribery related charges in January.

Still, Weirick argues that the Navy’s inability to punish anyone at the general officer level reveals a disturbing degree of impunity at the US military’s top ranks. The admirals who oversaw officers implicated in the scandal — and a few who even admitted to accepting favours from the company — haven’t received any serious punishment, and a few top officers were allowed to remain in their positions and keep their rank despite having their security clearances suspended.

Naval AcademyShutterstockThe scandal reached all the way to the Naval Academy — whose superintendent was allowed to stay on as a Vice Admiral despite admitting to accepting bribes.

Malaki’s guilty plea — which stems from bribes accepted in 2006 — shows that justice is at least being meted out to some of the US military’s guilty parties, even if it isn’t being distributed evenly. It also gives an idea of just how serious the “Fat Leonard” scandal really is.

A high-ranking officer sold sensitive US national security information in exchange for money and other, even more ephemeral benefits. This suggests an uncomfortable closeness between military contractors and the US officers they supposedly service, as well as alarming gaps in basic oversight.

The scandal implicated some of the highest-ranking officials in the Navy — including the former superintendent of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, a vice admiral who received a censure after admitting to accepting bribes from “Fat Leonard.” According to Defence News, as many as “three-dozen flag officers” were under federal investigation for their connections to the scandal as of this past February.

It’s a remarkable degree of institutional damage for a single, corrupt defence contractor to inflict. And it suggests that the worst aspects of the “Fat Leonard” scandal far go beyond the exchange of “the services of a prostitute” for US national security secrets.

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