Cambodian-American Naval Officer Pleads Guilty

Nearly four decades after fleeing Cambodia as a child, a tearful Michael Vannak Khem Misie­wicz returned to his home country in De­cember 2010 on the U.S. Navy guid­ed-missile destroyer he commanded.

After dropping anchor off the coast of Sihanoukville, he em­braced long-lost relatives as Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” played over loudspeakers.

Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz
Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz

It was a hero’s welcome for Mr. Misiewicz, a man who had become a symbol of the American dream.

“America is truly the land of opportunity. It’s the one country on Earth where you start from the rice fields of a war-torn country and rise to command a U.S. Navy destroyer. It doesn’t get any better,” he said at the time.

Mr. Misiewicz’s fall from grace has been equally dramatic.

On Thursday, the 48-year-old U.S. Navy commander pled guilty to bribery charges as part of a plea deal struck more than two years after he was charged, according to a statement from the U.S. Depart­ment of Justice.

Mr. Misiewicz admitted to ac­cepting bribes including cash, prostitutes and other gifts in ex­change for handing over U.S. Na­vy secrets, the statement said.

Between January 2011 and Sep­tember 2013, according to confessions made as part of the plea bargain that are cited in the statement, Mr. Misiewicz passed on classified ship schedules that contained information related to the U.S. Navy’s Pacific ballistic-missile defense operations to Leonard Glenn Francis, the Malaysian CEO of a Singapore-based company that caters to navy ships and submarines docking at ports in the region.

Mr. Francis—better known by the nickname “Fat Leonard”—allegedly used the information to secure Navy contracts worth millions of dollars.

In return, Mr. Francis showered the naval commander with gifts including prostitutes, tickets to a Lady Gaga concert and designer handbags, ac­cording to the Justice Department.

“In return, Misiewicz admitted that Francis gave him cash, paid for luxury travel on at least eight occasions for Misiewicz and his family, provided his wife with a designer handbag and provided Misiewicz with the services of prostitutes on multiple occasions,” the statement said.

“Throughout the conspiracy, Misiewicz admitted that he and his conspirators took steps to avoid detection by law enforcement by, among other means, using clandestine email accounts, which they periodically deleted,” it said.

Officials at the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Hon­o­lulu declined to comment on the case when contacted on Friday.

Born Khem Vannak in Kandal province in the mid-1960s, Mr. Misiewicz fled war-torn Cambodia in 1973 after being adopted by Ma­ryna Lee Misiewicz, a U.S. Army veteran and stenographer at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh who had her apartment cleaned by the young boy’s aunt. Mr. Misiewicz has said that his father and two sisters were left behind and died under the Khmer Rouge.

Upon arriving in the U.S., Mr. Misiewicz settled in rural Illinois and was the only non-white in La­n­ark, a town with a population of just 1,500.

In 1985, he enrolled at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

He then embarked on an impressive as­cent through the Navy’s ranks, becoming commander of the USS Mustin and eventually the deputy director of operations for the Sev­enth Fleet.

It was aboard the USS Mustin that Mr. Misiewicz made his internationally publicized return to Cambodia in 2010.

During the trip, Mr. Misiewicz distributed supplies at orphanages and paid a visit to a center run by anti-human trafficking activist So­maly Mam, who resigned as president of the Somaly Mam Foun­da­tion in 2014 after media reports re­vealed that she had fabricated parts of her backstory and coached young girls to lie about their past in order to raise funds.

However, Mr. Misiewicz’s golden image was shattered in Sep­tember 2013 when he was arrested and charged with the crimes relating to his dealings with Glenn Davis Marine Asia Ltd., the company controlled by Mr. Francis.

“Commander Misiewicz provided information to a foreign contractor that, in the wrong hands, could’ve had a devastating impact on national security,” Laura Duffy, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, is quoted as saying in the Justice Department statement.

“By giving in to greed, he put his Navy shipmates and fellow Americans in harm’s way.”

The sentencing of Mr. Misie­wicz is scheduled for April 29.

[email protected]

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA new weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.