Bolivia health minister arrested in graft probe over ventilators

SUCRE, BOLIVIA (BLOOMBERG) – Bolivia’s Health Minister was arrested amid an investigation into a contract to import ventilators from Spain at apparently inflated prices.

The minister, Marcelo Navajas, was among those detained over the deal to import 170 ventilators needed to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, state news agency ABI said. Navajas was also removed from his post.

Interim President Jeanine Anez said in a Twitter post that US$2 million (S$2.83 million) of the US$4.8 million contract had already been paid out, but that further payments will be halted.

The nation has been hit by protests in recent days by demonstrators demanding elections and an easing of the lockdown that has prevented impoverished Bolivians from earning a living.

The ventilator scandal “does not amuse most of the population which has been struggling to eat on US$73 government stipend per family for two months,” said Ms Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network, a Bolivia-based think tank.

National elections had been scheduled for May 3, but were postponed due to the pandemic with no firm date set.

Ms Anez took power in November after socialist leader Evo Morales fled the country amid accusations of electoral fraud.

Mr Morales and his supporters say he was the victim of a coup.

Bolivia has had 4,481 confirmed cases of the virus to date, and 189 deaths.

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