Former Bolivian minister arrested in US

Arturo Murillo and his former chief of staff Sergio Mendez allegedly took bribes to help a US company secure a Bolivian government defence contract.

Inside a court house
A former Bolivian minister and his former chief of staff along with three US citizens face bribery and money-laundering charges. File photo: Pixabay

PRETORIA, May 27 (ANA) – Authorities in the United States have arrested a former Bolivian minister and his former chief of staff along with three US citizens on bribery and money-laundering charges, the Justice Department announced in a statement on Thursday.

The department said that former minister Arturo Carlos Murillo Prijic, 57, and former chief of staff Sergio Rodrigo Mendez Mendizabal, 51, were arrested last week for allegedly receiving bribes paid by a US company to secure Bolivian government contracts over several months.

The scheme took place between November 2019 and April 2020.

During that time, the US citizens Luis Berkman, 58, Bryan Berkman, 36, and Philip Lichtenfeld, 48, allegedly paid US$602,000 to the Bolivian officials to secure a US$5.6-million contract to provide Bolivia’s defence ministry with tear gas and other non-lethal equipment.

To facilitate the scheme, the three Americans then laundered the payments through bank accounts in Florida and Bolivia and orchestrated the payment of US$582,000 in cash for Murillo and Mendez.

“All five individuals are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. If convicted, they face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the US sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors,” the department said in a statement.

Al Jazeera reported that Murillo is also wanted in Bolivia on sedition charges for his role in former president Jeanine Anez’s interim administration.

According to Al Jazeera, Anez was arrested in March 2021 on charges of sedition, terrorism and conspiracy for her role in an alleged coup in 2019.

– African News Agency (ANA); Editing by Yaron Blecher

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