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Bolivia ex-health minster held in pre-trial detention over virus scandal

Bolivia's ex-health minister has been remanded in custody over a corruption investigation into over-priced ventilators to fight the novel coronavirus, the attorney general said on Sunday.

Marcelo Navajas was fired after he was arrested on Wednesday as part of an investigation into the purchase of 179 ventilators from a Spanish company for almost $5 million, around two and a half times their advertised price.

Attorney General Ruddy Terrazas told journalists that a judge had remanded Navajas and three other health ministry officials in "pre-trial detention" following a hearing that lasted 12 hours and ended in the early hours of Sunday.

Navajas is to be held for three months and the other officials for six months.

The judge also placed two more officials under house arrest.

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.

It then was learned that they were bought at grossly inflated prices, with a Spanish company acting as an intermediary.

Letters between Navajas and the Spanish company showed that the former minister "authorized this process," said Terrazas.

Navajas's lawyer claimed the fired health minister was suffering from a serious heart condition and that pre-trial detention would pose a risk to his life.

The case comes as coronavirus cases and deaths have surged in Bolivia, to 5,900 and 240 respectively.

Topics: Ruddy Terrazas , Bolivia , corruption investigation , Marcelo Navajas
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