US Navy commander pleads guilty in corruption scandal involving Singapore-based contractor

US Navy commander pleads guilty in corruption scandal involving Singapore-based contractor
Navy Commander Jose Luis Sanchez (R) arrives at the U.S. District Court in San Diego, California in this file photo from November 20, 2013. Commander Sanchez was arrested in Florida and charged with accepting prostitutes, luxury travel and $100,000 in cash "in exchange for classified and internal U.S. Navy information," prosecutors said.

SAN DIEGO - A US Navy commander pleaded guilty on Tuesday to bribery charges in connection with a wide-ranging corruption investigation of a Singapore-based defence contractor.

Jose Luis Sanchez, 42, was accused of accepting cash and the services of prostitutes from the maritime services firm Glenn Defence Marine (Asia), led by Malaysian businessman Leonard Glenn Francis, who was chief executive of the company in Singapore and was arrested last September.

"Commander Sanchez sold out his command and country for cash bribes, luxury hotel rooms and the services of prostitutes," said Assistant Attorney-General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department's Criminal Division.

"After today's guilty plea, instead of free stays at the Shangri-La hotel, Sanchez is facing many nights in federal prison."

Sanchez is the fifth of seven defendants charged in the case and the highest ranking Navy officer to plead guilty so far. He has admitted to accepting bribes worth between US$30,000 (S$40,000) and US$100,000 in exchange for passing along classified ship schedules to representatives of Glenn Defence Marine (Asia).

The company held US$200 million in contracts to service navy ships from the Seventh Fleet at ports in Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, including providing food, water, fuel, tugboats and trash removal.

Two other Navy officials, former Naval Criminal Intelligence Service agent John Beliveau and logistics officer Dan Layug, have already pleaded guilty. The fourth, Commander Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz, 47, was formally indicted on Tuesday on seven additional bribery charges. He has pleaded not guilty.

Three officials of the company have also been charged, and two have pleaded guilty. Francis pleaded innocent to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in September 2013 and remains in federal custody.

According to the plea agreement, Sanchez served as a fleet logistics officer from 2008 until 2013, while he was stationed in Japan.

Sanchez, who had referred to Francis as "Lion King" and "Boss" in e-mail messages, reported Bloomberg, admitted that he gave Francis classified information about ship and submarine movements that helped Francis draw the ships into ports where he held service contracts.

In his plea agreement, Sanchez said he also tipped Francis off to the federal investigations into the firm for overbilling the Navy, and that he used his influence within the Navy to benefit the defence contractor.

In exchange, Sanchez said, on several occasions Francis paid for travel, and prostitutes, including a five-night stay at the Shangri-La in Singapore.

Sanchez faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. His sentencing is set for March.

Sanchez was arrested last November in Tampa, Florida, according to a statement from the US attorney's office in San Diego.

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