MIAMI, (Reuters) – A former top Bolivian anti-drug official pleaded guilty yesterday to charges of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States in a case that has proved a major embarrassment for Bolivia’s President Evo Morales.
Retired General Rene Sanabria was head of Bolivia’s leading counternarcotics unit when he was arrested in February in Panama and deported to Miami, where he faced a life sentence if found guilty in a trial. Sentencing was set for September 2.
U.S. prosecutors accuse Sanabria of providing safe passage for cocaine shipments from Bolivia, the world’s No. 3 producer, to the United States through neighbouring Chile.
Sanabria pleaded guilty along with an associate, Marcelo Foronda, Sanabria’s lawyer, Sabrina Puglisi, said.
Sanabria’s arrest followed a sting operation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) where undercover agents posed as Colombian drug traffickers.
According to American officials, a test shipment was arranged last year and a group led by Foronda shipped up to 315 pounds (144 kgs) of cocaine to Miami hidden in a cargo container containing zinc rocks.