Global News

This article first appeared in BBC on May 27, 2021.
Bolivia’s former Minister of Government Arturo Murillo, his former chief of staff, Sergio Méndez, and three US citizens were arrested in the US on charges of corruption and money laundering, the US Department of Justice announced on Wednesday.

Murillo, 57, and Méndez, 51, were arrested last May 21 and 22 in the states of Florida and Georgia for what is known as the “Tear gas case” or simply “Gas case”.

Both served between 2019 and 2020 as officials during the government of Jeanine Áñez, who is in prison in Bolivia accused of leading a coup d’état with the support of the police and the army.

In addition, police authorities arrested the Americans Luis Berkman, 58, Bryan Berkman, 36, and Philip Lichtenfeld, 48.

The latter are accused of paying $602,000 in bribes to Bolivian government officials on behalf of Murillo, Méndez and another unidentified Bolivian government official.

The U.S. Justice Department said the Bolivian officials accepted bribes from the U.S. businessmen, who won contracts worth approximately $5.6 million to supply tear gas and other non-lethal equipment to the Bolivian government.

The businessmen are owners of Bravo Tactical Solutions, a Florida-based company that acted as an intermediary between the Bolivian state and Brazilian supplier Condor, the US Justice Department report states.

To further the bribery scheme, which occurred between November 2019 and April 2020, the US citizens laundered payments to Bolivian government officials through bank accounts in Florida and Bolivia.

The three Americans also arranged the payment of $582,000 in cash to Murillo and Méndez, the Justice Department said in a statement.

If convicted, these five individuals face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Meanwhile, the Bolivian government announced Wednesday that it will ask the United States to extradite Murillo and her former chief of staff.

We want these Bolivians to be tried in national territory, we want these people to be held accountable“, said the current Minister of Government, Eduardo del Castillo, in a press conference on Wednesday.