Bolivia asks Brazil to hand over rogue senator

Morales wants Pinto Molina to face the 20 charges pending against him in Bolivia

President Evo Morales of Bolivia.
President Evo Morales of Bolivia.MARTIN ALIPAZ (EFE)

The Bolivian government awaits an official explanation from President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil. Last Friday Roger Pinto Molina, a senator in the opposition, surreptitiously left the country and fled to Brazil after being holed up in the Brazilian embassy in La Paz for 455 days. The Bolivian president, Evo Morales, spoke this Wednesday about the case for the first time. The incident has already led to the resignation of the Brazilian foreign minister, Antonio Patriota. Returning the senator to Bolivia would be "the best way to contribute to the fight against corruption," Morales said.

"We are waiting for an official answer to the diplomatic note from the Chancery," he told journalists during a press conference at the presidential palace. Pinto Molina, a member of the opposition party Convergencia Nacional, travelled for 22 hours in a car with diplomatic plates, accompanied by the chargé d'affaires of the Brazilian embassy in La Paz. They took the main highway that joins the highland with the western planes, stretching down to the border in Puerto Suarez, where the senator boarded a plane in Corumbá.

The Bolivian head of state asks that the senator be returned to his country to face 22 charges pending against him.

Morales expressed concern at what may be a concerted effort by conservative groups from the neighbor country who want to set the two governments against each other when relations - with strong economic ties - have already become tense in the last few months. "They want to spread distrust," Morales said. However, "the Brazilian government feels differently," he added.

Pinto Molina asked for asylum in the Brazilian embassy on May 28, 2012 and remained there until last Friday despite the many petitions the Brazilian chancery sent to La Paz asking for a safe conduct pass. This request was denied on several occasions. Chief Prosecutor Mario Uribe even warned that there would be sanctions levied against any entity that facilitated the senator's departure from the country.

Before taking up refuge in the embassy, the senator insisted on personally delivering a file containing a series of complaints about alleged irregularities within the government to Morales. "With the hope that he would open an investigation," Pinto Molina said in an exclusive interview on Cadena A in La Paz.

In that same interview Pinto Molina said the information he delivered to the president came from sources within "the government's own intelligence community." They had allegedly discovered irregularities during a police operation in a hotel in Santa Cruz where three Europeans accused of terrorism were killed. They had also communicated suspicions about supposed links between government associates and the drug trade. "That's when the persecution started," the senator said, adding that the retaliation threats forced him to seek succor from the Brazilian embassy. Brazil granted him protection but after his illegal departure from the country Pinto Molina will have to apply for political refugee status.

There are 22 charges against Pinto Molina including 8 counts for illegal profiteering from forestal resources and unauthorized felling activity on 1,000 hectares of his own land in the province of Pando. Another 7 charges for contempt were thrown out due to an error in Constitutional Court. The minister for Transparency also sued the senator for 18 million Bolivianos (less than 2 million euros) for economic damage done to the State. Pinto Molina himself has said that the other eight charges are related to alleged links to drug trafficking.

Morales lamented the fact that someone who was skirting a prison sentence should have been helped out of the country despite four injunctions against his departure. The president assured that the judicial process will continue. The Bolivian authorities insist Pinto Molina is not a political refugee but rather a fugitive of the law.

The Bolivian chancellor, David Choquehuanca, also decried Pinto Molina's departure. "It would be a bad precedent not only for Bolivia but for the entire international community if diplomatic immunity were to cover illegal acts," besides undermining agreements, conventions, and other joint actions between nations.

Translation: Dyane Jean François

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