Archive for 17 November 2017

On Fat Leonard, the Penang floods and emergency birthday purchases for the wife

17 November 2017

(Reprinted from The Edge – Options pullout, 13 November 2017 issue)

Dear Kam,
Who or what is “Fat Leonard”?
Chubby Checker

The “Fat Leonard” scandal involving a Malaysian contractor and the US Navy is truly amazing. For sheer entrepreneurship and “thinking outside the box” it has yet again shown the world that Malaysians can be the gold standard. As one unnamed retired US Navy officer told The Washington Post, “He’s got people skills that are off the scale … At one time, he had infiltrated the entire leadership line.”

For those of you who don’t know, Leonard Glenn Francis is a Malaysian who had a company based in Singapore called Glenn Marine Group, which supplied docking and resupply services to US Navy ships in Southeast Asia. He is a big man, hence Fat Leonard, and he is currently in an American jail having pled guilty to charges of bribery and fraud during a career in which he managed to overcharge the US Navy to the tune of US$35 million. Obviously US$35 million is nothing compared to what some of our entrepreneurs have managed to achieve but it is still a major accomplishment considering how he did it and what the ramifications are for the US Navy.

The US Navy is reeling from the scale of the scandal. As the unnamed retired US Navy officer puts it: “The Soviets couldn’t have penetrated us better than Leonard Francis … The KGB could not have done what he did.” If anything, by comparing this scandal to the Cold War the retired officer is using the wrong unit of measurement because we need to find something much bigger. Francis is apparently cooperating with the US authorities and, now, 440 serving and retired US sailors are currently under scrutiny. So far, 14 navy officials have already pled guilty, including a retired Rear Admiral, and another Rear Admiral is awaiting trial. This means that Francis is probably about to sink more senior officers than the Imperial Japanese Navy ever did during the entire Second World War.

The methods employed were quite simple: prostitutes, parties, alcohol and money. Sailors were enticed into sending ships to ports that Francis controlled, where The Washington Post says, he then overcharged for “fuel, tugboats, barges, food, water and sewage removal”. It is alleged that he even managed to gain access to highly classified information about ship and submarine movements. The scale of the scandal is astonishing, even appalling, and yet, as a Malaysian, I have to admit that I am kind of impressed.

But I am also left wondering, how on earth did he think he could get away with it forever? For how long did he and his sailor cohorts imagine the US Navy would turn a blind eye? Presumably, the US Navy has some kind of accounting services and, presumably, it would eventually start asking why the Seventh Fleet based in Asian waters was costing so much to dock. From watching a lot of Martin Scorsese movies (I just watched Goodfellas again), I have learnt that the problem for any criminal conspiracy is that the more people you involve, the more chance you have of being caught. During World War II, the US government created a saying to warn people against blabbing in front of potential spies: “Loose lips sink ships.” In this instance, the saying would have been almost literally true.

I suppose that a lot of people commit big financial crimes and get away with it. But some people don’t. Sometimes, just sometimes, it gets found out.

Dear Kam,
I do not live in Penang and I do not have any family in Penang but I was horrified to see the recent floods that happened there.
Mr South

It has been raining a lot in Kuala Lumpur but it has been nothing like the deluge that hit Penang recently. People died and homes and businesses were flooded as the streets of George Town became rivers. A friend of mine has a shop in George Town and she lost her entire stock because of the flooding, which has come as a devastating blow, and she is just one of so many. I hope that Penang will recover and I hope that lessons have been learnt. The land itself, and on a small island in particular, can only take so much development before it collapses under its own weight.

In Penang, Mother Nature has given a warning to the whole nation. Will the warning be heeded?

Dear Kam,
Help! I’ve forgotten my wife’s birthday again. What do I do? It’s 2am and I do not think she would want anything from 7-Eleven. Do you think she would like a Ramly burger?
In Trouble

If you are like me, then you have always been searching for a sterling silver tin can but just couldn’t find one. Fortunately, Tiffany & Co has finally woken up to that obvious gap in the market with a new range that promises to “transform utilitarian items into handcrafted works of art”. Its new collection, which finally includes a silver tin can, is called Everyday Objects. At first glance, this might sound like an odd name because the people who are rich enough to be able to buy a silver tin can would never find themselves actually touching a real tin can on any day, let alone every day. Assuming I can find US$1,000 at the back of the sofa, I now know what my wife will be getting for her next birthday, which I want to say is in May, or is it October? It doesn’t matter because I will just do my regular thing: I will rush out and do a panic purchase when I’m told a few days after the event. If only Tiffany & Co had a 24-hour emergency booth.

Reprinted with the kind permission of