Bolivia: prison corruption scandal widens

Félix Becerra, a leader of the Aymara indigenous organization CONAMAQ, has called upon Bolivia’s judicial authorities to widen the investigation of the current corruption scandal to include Presidency Minister Juan Ramón Quintana, Government Minister Carlos Romero and UN Ambassador Sacha Llorenti. Noting longstanding CONAMAQ claims that the Evo Morales government is setting up state-controlled “parallel” organizations to divide the indigenous movement, Becerra implied that the same cabinet figures who have pursued this strategy could be involved in the scandal.  “We have seen that Ramón Quintana, Carlos Romero and Sacha Llorenti have always been preparing to armar paralelos, and these maximum authorities should be investigated to see if they are implicated in acts of corruption,” he said. A total of 10 officials have been detained in the case so far, although none at the cabinet level. (Erbol, Dec. 21; ANF, Dec. 17)

In the eastern department of Santa Cruz, prosecutor Roberto Achá and his spouse Cori Balcázar were last week ordered imprisoned in relation to the scandal, which concerns the extortion of inmates in the country’s prisons. They are being held at Palmasola, the Santa Cruz prison that is at the heart of the scandal. (, Dec. 21)

Days earlier, Brooklyn flooring contractor Jacob Ostreicher—with whom the extortion accusations began—was freed from Palmasola on bail of 100,000 bolivianos (about $14,200). He will remain under house arrest in Santa Cruz. Ostreicher spoke at a press conference wearing a bulletproof vest alongside actor Sean Penn after his bail hearing. US politicians Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) also traveled to Bolivia for Ostreicher’s release. Demonstrators outside the Santa Cruz courthouse both supported and denounced Ostreicher, some claiming he had taken over land in Bolivia without paying for it. Members of Bolivia’s Jewish community said Ostreicher, an Orthodox Jew, was unjustly accused. Some held signs supporting him in Hebrew. (New Jersey Jewish News, Dec. 21; CNN, Dec. 19)

Ostreicher was involved in a foundering rice-growing venture when he was arrested in June 2011, after he accused the venture’s original manager, a Colombian woman who also is now imprisoned, of defrauding investors and falling in with Brazilian drug lord Maximiliano Dorado. Charged with money-laundering, Ostreicher says prosecutors and government employees illegally sold 18,000 metric tons of the venture’s rice, stole cattle and equipment, and demanded $50,000 to get him out of prison.

Magistrate Ariel Rocha, president of the Court of Justice of Santa Cruz, has also been ordered arrested in the corruption case, but remains on the lam; his home was raided Dec. 19, but he was not there. A manhunt is underway. (La Razón, La Paz, Dec. 30; Venezuela al Día, Dec. 27; Fox News Latino, Dec. 20)