Latin America & Caribbean

Bolivia arrests senior official accused of diverting coca

Vehicle loaded with coca leaves bags
Leaf sellers need to be licensed with the coca industrialisation agency

The head of Bolivia's coca control and industrialisation agency has been arrested over accusations of illegally selling seized coca and other crimes.

Prosecutors say Luis Cutipa diverted 45 tonnes of coca leaves and passed them on through his relatives to drug lords.

Mr Cutipa is also accused of falsifying documents to get his job and benefitting from an increase in the price of coca sellers' licences.

He denies any wrongdoing and says extra funds went to official bank accounts.

Prosecutors say they will charge Luis Cutipa with neglect of duty, extortion, abuse of power and contravening laws and the Constitution.

A separate investigation is looking into the alleged fraud over documents he presented to obtain his job.

Funding cuts

Mr Cutipa says he was forced to raise the price of licences after his agency lost funding following President Evo Morales' decision to expel the US Agency for International Development (USAID) from the country.

According to Mr Cutipa, the funding cuts caused by the decision left him struggling to cover expenses.

After reaching an agreement with coca growers, the price of a licence was raised from $87 (£54) to $170 (£110), he says.

Mr Cutipa says that the extra income, amounitng to more than $500,000 (£310,000), was kept in official bank accounts.

He also dismissed the accusations that his two sisters helped to sell 45 tonnes of seized coca as "slander".

This is not the first time a high-ranking official in President Evo Morales' government has been embroiled in scandal, says the BBCs Will Grant.

Two years ago, the former chief of the country's anti-narcotics police, General Rene Sanabria, was jailed for 14 years by a court in Miami for cocaine trafficking.

He was working as an intelligence adviser to the government at the time of his arrest.

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