Ex-Bolivian official pleads guilty in US to bribery

NEW YORK (AP) — The former Bolivian interior minister pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to launder bribes a Florida-based company paid him in exchange for helping him obtain a contract to supply tear gas to the Bolivian government, the US Department of Justice said. .

Arturo Murillo, 58, who was arrested last year in the United States, received at least $532,000 in bribes. He was part of the government of former interim Bolivian President Jeanine Áñez.

According to a Justice Department press release, Murillo and his co-conspirators laundered the proceeds of the bribery scheme through the US financial system, including bank accounts in Miami, Florida. Murillo pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Murillo was one of the most outspoken voices in the Áñez government which took power in November 2019 after President Evo Morales resigned amid violent protests challenging his re-election for a fourth consecutive term. But this crackdown on the Bolivian left backfired and nearly a year later, Morales’ ally Luis Arce was elected and proceeded to lock up Áñez and other linked officials. to her.

The Florida-based company, not named in the press release, has been awarded a contract worth approximately $5.6 million to supply tear gas and other non-lethal equipment to the Bolivian Ministry of Defense.

The company is believed to have been owned by Bryan Berkman, a Bolivian-American dual national who bought the tear gas from Brazil for a much lesser sum of $3.3 million, according to an affidavit from a Department of Homeland Security agent that accompanies court documents.