US charges ex-Bolivian minister with bribery, money laundering

US accuses former Bolivian Interior Minister Arturo Murillo of receiving bribes from US company and individuals.

Arturo Murillo served in the interim government of Bolivian ex-president Jeanine Anez and is also wanted on sedition charges in Bolivia [File: David Mercado/Reuters]

The United States has arrested a former cabinet minister in the interim government of Bolivia’s ex-President Jeanine Anez on bribery and money-laundering charges.

In a statement on Wednesday, the US Justice Department accused former Interior Minister Arturo Murillo and his ex-chief of staff, Sergio Mendez, “of receiving bribes paid by a US company and individuals to secure a Bolivian government contract”.

The department accused the pair of “then using the US financial system to launder those bribes”.

Three US citizens were also charged with the alleged bribery scheme, which took place between November 2019 and April 2020.

The Americans are accused of paying $602,000 to the Bolivian officials, the Justice Department said, to secure a $5.6m contract to provide Bolivia’s defence ministry with tear gas and other non-lethal equipment.

The five men are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison.

Murillo is also wanted in Bolivia on sedition charges for his role in Anez’s interim administration.

Anez came to power after Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first Indigenous president, resigned in November 2019 amid pressure from some of the public, the armed forces and opposition leaders who accused him of stealing an election a month earlier.

Morales returned from exile in Argentina in November of last year after the candidate from his Movement for Socialism (MAS) Party won long-awaited presidential polls.

Anez and other ex-officials were arrested in March and accused of carrying out a coup attempt. She was ordered to four months of pre-trial detention shortly after her arrest.

But Murillo left Bolivia ahead of his arrest warrant.

He played a central role in going after Morales and his key supporters with charges of sedition and terrorism and came under fire for heavy-handed military and police responses to protests, which saw dozens killed.

Human rights groups and international observers had criticised the Bolivian government for arresting Anez and her ministers and stressed the importance of due process.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies