Former Bolivian government minister pleads guilty to conspiracy to launder bribes in U.S.

Former Bolivian government minister pleads guilty to conspiracy to launder bribes in U.S.

Arturo Carlos Murillo Prijic, the former head of a government ministry in Bolivia, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder more than half a million dollars in bribes he received. He is pictured in FBI custody in 2021. Photo courtesy of FBI/Wikimedia

Oct. 20 (UPI) — The former head of a government ministry in Bolivia has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder more than half a million dollars in bribes he received, the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday.

Arturo Carlos Murillo Prijic, a 58-year-old businessman and hotelier, served as the minister of government in Bolivia from 2019 to 2020.

During his time in government, Murillo conspired to launder $532,000 in bribes by a Florida company to secure a $5.6 million defense contract in Bolivia, the Justice Department said in a statement. Murillo received about $130,000 in cash bribe payments.

He was among five co-conspirators, including three U.S. citizens, who were arrested in Florida and Georgia in May for their roles in the bribery scheme.

Prosecutors said in court documents that Bryan Berkman, the owner of the Florida company, and his father Luis Berkman had sought to win a contract to provide the Bolivian government with tear gas and other non-lethal equipment from a Brazilian company.

Berkman sent a WhatsApp message to Sergio Rodrigo Mendez Mendizabal, another former Bolivian official and co-conspirator in the case, advising that his company had been “banned” from selling the Brazilian tear gas to Bolivia.

The company and the Bolivian government entered into the contract to provide the non-lethal weaponry in December 2019, which had been purchased from Brazil for nearly $3.4 million – leaving the Florida company with a more than $2 million profit, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Murillo and the co-conspirators laundered the bribes to secure that contract through the Central Bank of Bolivia and bank accounts in Florida. The Berkmans, Mendez and the fourth co-conspirator — Philip Lichtenfeld – previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the scheme in September 2021.

Mendez was sentenced to 42 months in prison while Luis Berkman was sentenced to 38 months in prison. Bryan Berkman was sentenced to 28 months and Lichtenfeld was sentenced to 26 months.

Murillo faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison at his sentencing hearing, which has not yet ben scheduled.

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