, LA PAZ Feb 29 – A Bolivian prosecutor on Sunday ordered President Evo Morales’s ex-girlfriend to be held in a public jail, saying she was a flight risk as she faces a string of corruption charges.
Gabriela Zapata, 28, is a senior manager at the local office of Chinese engineering group CAMC, which has won several contracts for large construction projects in Bolivia.
Zapata faces charges of money laundering, embezzlement and abuse of influence, said prosecutor Edwin Blanco.
Blanco said that jail was justified because there was evidence that Zapata was preparing to travel, and that unnamed government workers might “modify, hide and suppress documentation” relating to the case.
Zapata used offices at the Ministry of the Presidency for personal meetings with foreign investors, in complicity with two unnamed employees.
Blanco also said the probe showed that Zapata had income “that made it evident that there was suspicious economic activity.”
Zapata was arrested Friday and initially held at a police station jail, the interior ministry said. She was formally charged on Saturday.
Four government offices, including the Ministry of the Presidency and the Public Works Ministry, asked for Zapata’s arrest and warned that she was a flight risk.
Zapata’s arrest comes weeks after local media revealed that the president’s former girlfriend worked for China CAMC Engineering Co., which recently won a $560 million government contract for a railroad project.
The Chinese firm also has contracts to build a hydroelectric plant, a sugar refinery and a lithium plant in the Uyuni salt flats.
Opposition politicians quickly accused Morales of influence peddling, which he denied.
The 56-year-old president is single, and his elder sister performs the functions of Bolivia’s first lady.
– CAMC controversy –
Investigators also discovered that Zapata had sent letters in the government’s name to different government offices urging them to favor CAMC.
President Morales asked the office of the Comptroller General and Congress to look into CAMC’s activities, and vowed that he would protect no one in the probe.
Morales also ordered that CAMC make a $22.8 million payment for not completing their contract to build a railroad in central and western Bolivia, which is needed to move urea and ammonia from a production plant to market.
CAMC was also sanctioned by being banned from seeking government contracts for the next three years.
Morales denies the influence-peddling allegations, which contributed to his defeat in a recent referendum on reforming Bolivia’s constitution.
The reform would have let Morales seek a fourth consecutive term in office.
Morales recently admitted to fathering a child with Zapata during a two-year relationship that began in 2005 when she was 18. Morales said the child later died.
However, one of Zapata’s aunts on Saturday told reporters that the child was alive and well.
Transparency Minister Lenny Valdivia urged Zapata to bring the child to court to clear up the controversy.