Bolivian health minister held for suspected corruption

Bolivia's health minister was arrested on suspicion of corruption related to the over-priced purchase of ventilators to fight COVID-19, then fired by interim President Jeanine Anez, officials said Wednesday.

Bolivian health minister held for suspected corruption
Bolivian interim President Jeanine Anez (center) prays on a rooftop as Monsignor Fernando Bascope leads a Good Friday procession on a truck through the streets of La Paz on April 10, 2020 while most of Holy Week's celebrations were cancelled worldwide as a precautionary measure against the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19. The first person to officially die from the novel coronavirus was a 61-year-old Chinese man from Wuhan on January 9. Now, three months later, by April 10, more than 100,000 people have succumbed to the disease. AFP
Marcelo Navajas was detained by police in La Paz, police Colonel Ivan Rojas said, a day after Anez ordered an investigation into the shady purchase.

Two other health ministry officials have also been arrested.

Anez is facing her biggest corruption scandal in six months in power and a fierce wave of criticism over her handling of the crisis.

Bolivia bought 179 ventilators from a manufacturer in Spain for $27,683 each, costing almost $5 million, a purchase funded by the Inter-American Development Bank. 

But it later transpired that the manufacturer was offering ventilators for around half that price - 9,500-11,000 euros each ($10,312-$11,941).

Another Spanish company acted as an intermediary.

Anez said on Twitter that Bolivia had already sent more than $2 million to pay for the ventilators but "will no pay one more cent."

She said she was committed to "recovering the money of Bolivians."

The scandal came to light at the end of last week when intensive care doctors complained that the ventilators were not suitable for Bolivian intensive care units.

Anez "decided to remove the health minister" to "avoid any interference in the work of the law," said the government's communications chief Isabel Fernandez.

Bolivia has reported 4,500 COVID-19 cases and 190 deaths. On March 17, the government closed the landlocked South American country's borders and instigated a general lockdown.

The socially and political conservative Anez took office on November 12, one day after leftist President Evo Morales (2006-2019) resigned following days of violent unrest.

Topics: corruption , COVID-19 , Jeanine Anez , Ivan Rojas , ventilators , Inter-American Development Bank
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