Bolivia: three ex-presidents charged in foreign oil deals

From EFE, March 16:

Bolivia’s attorney general filed charges Thursday against three ex-presidents and eight former energy ministers for signing contracts with foreign petroleum firms that violated the laws of the Andean nation. The accusations are directed against Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, Jorge Quiroga and Carlos Mesa.

Attorney General Pedro Gareca presented the charges before the Supreme Court, which will decide if the evidence is sufficient to warrant referring the cases to Congress, where lawmakers will have the last word on whether to allow the indictment to go forward.

The submission from the AG’s office contends that the former heads of state violated Bolivia’s constitution in some of their dealings with the multinationals seeking to tap the country’s massive reserves of natural gas.

Gareca said he found illegalities in contracts signed with the local subsidiaries of BP and Spain’s Repsol-YPF, respectively.
He also pointed to what he called questionable aspects of accords with Brazil’s state-owned Petrobras and French oil major TotalFinaElf.

The bulk of the indictment concerns Sanchez de Lozada, who was president from 1993-1997 and again from 2002-2003. He is accused of wrongdoing in connection with 39 contracts, all but one of them signed during his first term, when he privatized Bolivia’s oil and gas sector. Quiroga, who served out the final year of the 1997-2002 term of cancer-stricken President Hugo Banzer, is cited in connection with four contracts.

Only one count of the indictment pertains to Carlos Mesa, the man who replaced Sanchez de Lozada when he was forced out by protests in October 2003.

The AG’s office also wants to charge former hydrocarbons Ministers Carlos Morales, Fernando Illanes, Jorge Berindoague, Alvaro Rios, Mauricio Galleguillos, Antonio Aranibar, Javier Nogales and Guillermo Torres.

Gareca likewise leveled accusations at four ex-presidents of the state oil company, YPFB, and highlighted problems with contracts signed by Banzer, who died in 2002.

Congress gave its approval two years ago to the prosecution of Sanchez de Lozada for the events of October 2003, when some 60 people died as a result of police and army action to repress street protests against the then-president’s plan to export natural gas to the United States and Mexico.

But that case has gone nowhere, as Sanchez de Lozada remains in self-imposed exile in the United States, which is highly unlikely to extradite him.

Quiroga, who lost to Socialist Evo Morales in the December presidential election, and Mesa, whose resignation last summer paved the way for that ballot, both continue to live in Bolivia.

A related story from Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 19:


On March 13, a court in the eastern Bolivian city of Santa Cruz rejected a habeas corpus suit filed on behalf of two executives of the Spanish-Argentine oil company Repsol-YPF. The company announced it would appeal the ruling to Bolivia’s Constitutional Court. Andina, Repsol-YPF’s Bolivian affiliate, had charged that Andina president Julio Gavito, a Spanish citizen, and operations manager Pedro Sanchez, an Argentine citizen, were being unduly persecuted. Gavito and Sanchez are fugitives facing criminal charges for the irregular sale of some $9.2 million worth of crude oil between June of 2004 and July of 2005. The court dismissed the habeas petition because the two executives are not detained. Repsol YPF believes the charges against its executives are “absolutely unjustifiable” because the original complaint brought by Bolivian customs “refers to a hypothetical infraction that should be discussed in an administrative setting.” [El Barlovento 3/13/06]

See our last post on Bolivia.