Bolivia Seeks Arturo Murillo’s Extradition From U.S.

Bolivia has begun extradition proceedings for former defacto Interior Minister during the coup, Arturo Murillo, in the “tear gas case” and has initiated proceedings for the recovery and repatriation of the assets which were generated in the acts of corruption.

On Thursday, Attorney General Juan Lanchipa Ponce announced in a press conference that if extradited, Murillo will face justice for corruption, human rights violations and other abuses of power. Arrest warrants were issued for Murillo and ex-Defense Minister Fernando Lopez for the Tear Gas case which Bolivian authorities opened in 2020:

“The criminal proceeding is in the final phase of the preparatory stage, having issued formal charges against Mr. Murillo on January 12, 2021. The Public Prosecutor’s Office has initiated the extradition process foreseen, so that the request is attended by the competent authority,” he said.

Attorney General Lanchipa noted that Bolivia had previously solicited assistance from Interpol to capture Murillo and Lopez who had fled to Brazil and the United States, but the request was not accepted on grounds of political persecution. He added that the case which is now being carried out by the U.S. Department of Justice should make it clear to international bodies that Bolivia’s investigation is an act of justice.

Murillo and his former Chief of Staff, Sergio Rodrigo Méndez, were arrested in the United States this week on money laundering and bribery charges, which involved use of U.S. bank accounts. Under Jeanine Añez’s rule, the Bolivian State paid 5.6 million dollars for tear gas and other products when its real value was 3.3 million. 

More than 2 million dollars was distributed among the co-conspirators involved, including Arturo Murillo, his former Chief of Staff and a Bolivian official of the Ministry of Defense under Añez’s administration, who has not been publicly named by the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Lanchipa says these assets must be repatriated, “It has been arranged to carry out all the procedural actions aimed at the recovery and repatriation in favor of the Bolivian state of all the assets, money and values that have been recovered,” adding that his Office will request the freezing of bank accounts at the international level which were used in the corruption scheme by Murillo and co-conspirators.

Añez, who has been incarcerated in La Paz since March, has suddenly attempted to distance herself from the corruption which took place on her watch. Bolivia’s legislature censured Arturo Murillo on October 14, 2020 for failing to report the corrupt tear gas purchase. He was removed from his position as Interior Minister on October 19th, only to be reinstated by Jeanine Añez less than 24 hours later. 

Coup leaders including Carlos Mesa, Fernando Camacho and Tuto Quiroga have also made statements to try to distance themselves from Murillo in response to the developments in the United States, despite their close ties to him, and despite having carried out an international campaign accusing Luis Arce’s government of political persecution for investigating the same crime. 

Murillo is now at the Federal Detention Center in Miami and faces a 20 year maximum sentence if found guilty of the U.S. federal crime he’s accused of, and faces up to 30 years in Bolivia.