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U.S. arrests former Bolivian minister on bribery, money laundering charges

May 27 (UPI) -- The United States has arrested a former Bolivian minister and another government official over bribery and money laundering charges.

The Justice Department announced in a statement Wednesday that former Bolivian Minister Arturo Carlos Murillo Prijic, 57, and his chief of staff, Sergio Rodrigo Mendez Mendizabal, 51, were arrested late last week for receiving bribes paid by a U.S. company to secure Bolivian government contracts over the course of several months.

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According to prosecutors the bribery scheme ran from November 2019 to April 2020 when Americans Luis Berkman, 58; Bryan Berkman, 36; and Philip Lichtenfeld, 48, paid the Bolivian officials $602,000 so Bryan Berkman's Florida-based company could obtain business deals with the Bolivian Ministry of Defense.

The Justice Department said the deal secured was a $5.6 million contract to provide the Bolivian Defense Ministry with tear gas and other non-lethal equipment.

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The prosecutors said the Americans then attempted to launder the money for the Bolivian officials through Bolivian and U.S. bank accounts.

All five were arrested between May 21 and 22 and have each been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which comes with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

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Murillo was a minister in the interim government of former President Jeanine Anez who came to power in November 2019 following the resignation of President Evo Morales who stepped down amid growing political turmoil and allegations by the military that he had rigged his re-election.

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A year later and days before the inauguration of the new Bolivian government, Murillo resigned and went into exile in the United States.

In January, the Prosecutor's Office of La Paz also charged Murillo and another Bolivian minister and issued a notice through Interpol for his extradition on charges of breach of duty, among others.

Anez with several allies was arrested in March on accusations of terrorism and sedition tied to her ascension to the country's highest seat of power.

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