U.S. Marshals Service via AP
- 'Fat Leonard' fled to Venezuela after pleading guilty to involvement in a US Navy bribery scandal.
- The US has 30 days to request the extradition of the former military contractor.
- Venezuelan President Maduro may use Leonard as a bargaining chip for US recognition, AP reported.
The capture of a fugitive former military contractor who escaped to Venezuela may be a key to Nicolas Maduro's efforts to win official recognition from the Biden administration.
'Fat Leonard' Glenn Francis was caught in Venezuela Tuesday after escaping US custody, having cut his ankle monitor after pleading guilty to involvement in a US Navy bribery scandal.
With his capture, experts are speculating whether disputed Venezuelan President Maduro will use the prisoner as a bargaining chip to win recognition from US President Joe Biden's administration, AP reported.
Francis, a 350-pound man nicknamed 'Fat Leonard,' was arrested by Venezuelan police while trying to board a flight at the Simon Bolivar International Airport, AP reported. US authorities now have 30 days to formally request his extradition.
Francis was three weeks away from sentencing for his role in bribing Navy officials when he escaped.
Prosecutors argued Francis tried to bribe Navy officials with hundreds of thousands of dollars — as well as Cuban cigars, Spanish suckling pigs, tickets to Lady Gaga concerts, and "a rotating carousel of prostitutes" — in exchange for classified information and work opportunities for his firm, The Guardian reported.
He also overcharged the Navy by over $35 million for services, NBC reported,
With his arrest, experts told AP Francis' conditional return may be used as leverage to prompt official recognition from the Biden administration.
"I have no doubt the Venezuelans will make hay of (Francis' arrest), especially because they have felt the effects of the long arm of the U.S. justice system," David Smilde, a longtime expert on Venezuela who teaches at Tulane University, told AP.
A law enforcement official in Venezuela told AP the extradition is seen as unlikely because the Biden administration recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaidó — not Maduro — as the country's legitimate ruler.
Guaidó declared himself interim president of Venezuela in January 2019 amid nationwide protests against authoritarian president Nicolas Maduro. The US and its allies still officially recognize Guaidó as Venezuela's leader, despite Maduro's current control of the government.
Under Maduro's rule, Venezuelan citizens are fleeing a government that has engaged in "crimes against humanity," including torture and sexual violence used to repress dissent, according to a United Nations report released Tuesday.
Immigrants from the country, like those recently flown to Martha's Vineyard by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, account for a new wave of migration in the US, Insider reported earlier this month.