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Singapore contractor to change plea in Navy bribery scheme

[SINGAPORE] A Singapore-based naval contractor is changing his plea of not guilty on charges that he bribed US Navy commanders with cash, gifts and prostitutes in exchange for classified information about where ships were scheduled to dock, according to a court filing.

Leonard Glenn Francis, chief executive officer of Glenn Defense Marine (Asia), so far has denied the allegations in an investigation that has resulted in guilty pleas of three US Navy officials and two of Francis's employees. His company had contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars for servicing American ships at ports in Southeast Asia.

Francis is scheduled to change his plea tomorrow in federal court in San Diego. Kelly Thornton, a spokeswoman for the US attorney's office there, declined to comment ahead of the hearing. Francis's lawyer, Ethan Posner, didn't immediately respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Francis, a Malaysian citizen, was arrested in September 2013 in San Diego. Nicknamed "Fat Leonard," he's accused of paying two commanders to steer US Navy vessels to ports that were most lucrative for his company. A Navy criminal investigator who Francis allegedly bribed for information about a probe of Glenn Defense Marine pleaded guilty in 2013.

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Glenn Defense Marine worked with the US Navy for 25 years, providing goods and services for American ships in at least a dozen countries in Asia, according to court filings. Among three regional contracts the company was awarded in 2011 was one worth as much as US$125 million over five years to provide tugboats, fuel, trash removal and other services for the Navy in Southeast Asia.

US Navy Commander Jose Luis Sanchez, 42, pleaded guilty on Jan. 6 to accepting bribes from Francis. Sanchez was deputy logistics officer for the commander of the US Navy Seventh Fleet in Yokosuka, Japan, and later director of operations for Fleet Logistics Command in Singapore.

Sanchez, who referred to Francis as "Lion King" and "Boss" in e-mails, received more than US$100,000 in cash and prostitutes that Francis arranged for him and his friends in Kuala Lumpur and Manila, prosecutors said when Sanchez was arrested in November 2013 in Tampa, Florida.