Bolivian anti-graft officer held on extortion charge in Miami

MIAMI,  (Reuters) – A senior Bolivian police official, accused of flying to Miami in late August to extort $30,000 from a prominent businessman seeking asylum in the United States, will remain in jail until a bond hearing next week, a judge ordered on Friday.

FBI agents arrested the deputy chief of Bolivia’s police anti-corruption unit, Mario Fabricio Ormachea Aliaga, in a sting operation Aug. 31 after meeting with Humberto Roca, the former president of AeroSur, once Bolivia’s largest private airline. Ormachea was identified in court documents as a police Colonel, although a top Bolivian police official denied he held that rank and said he had been dismissed from his job Aug. 28.

The arrest could further damage already frosty U.S. relations with Bolivia’s socialist president Evo Morales, only weeks after Bolivia accused Washington of trying to “kidnap” Morales when his plane was denied permission to fly over France and Portugal.

Morales is one of several leftist leaders in Latin America who have offered to grant asylum to former U.S. intelligence agency contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed secrets of surveillance programs. Russia granted Snowden asylum.

Ormachea is not the first Bolivian official to fall foul of the U.S. legal system. In 2011, Bolivia’s former counter-narcotics chief, General Rene Sanabria, pleaded guilty to smuggling cocaine and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Roca fled Bolivia in 2010 saying he faced political persecution after prosecutors accused AeroSur of providing tickets to foreign mercenaries.

In December 2012 a Bolivian judge issued an arrest warrant for Roca for “illegal enrichment.” Roca says the charges were politically motivated in an effort by Morales to stamp out competition to the state-owned airline.