Ex-official in Bolivia pleads guilty in US for bribes

NEW YORK (AP) — Bolivia’s former interior minister pleaded guilty on Thursday to conspiracy to launder bribes that a Florida-based company paid him in exchange for helping it secure a contract to provide tear gas to the Bolivian government, said the U.S. Department of Justice.

Arturo Murillo, 58, who was arrested last year in the U.S., received at least $532,000 in bribe payments. He served on former interim Bolivian President Jeanine Áñez’s government.

According to a Department of Justice press release, Murillo and his co-conspirators laundered the proceeds of the bribery scheme through the U.S. 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 that took power in November 2019 after President Evo Morales stepped down amid violent protests disputing his reelection to a fourth straight term. But that crackdown on Bolivia’s left backfired, and almost a year later, Morales’ ally, Luis Arce, was elected and proceeded to lock up Áñez and other officials tied to her.

The Florida-based company, not named in the press release, secured an approximately $5.6 million contract to provide tear gas and other non-lethal equipment to the Bolivian Ministry of Defense.

The company was allegedly owned by Bryan Berkman, a dual Bolivian-American national who purchased the tear gas in Brazil for a much-smaller sum of $3.3 million, according to an affidavit from a Department of Homeland Security agent that accompanies court documents.

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