Five charged in alleged Bolivian bribe scheme

Two Bolivians and three Americans have been charged in connection to a bribery scheme, including former government officials.

The U.S. Justice Department said on Wednesday that Americans bribed former Bolivian officials to secure a supply contract for tear gas, including to high-profile former Minister Arturo Carlos Murillo Prijic.

The scheme allegedly took place between late 2019 and early 2020 and involved Americans paying over $600,000 in bribes to the Bolivians to win a nearly $6 million contract to supply tear gas and "other non-lethal equipment" to Bolivia's Ministry of Defense.

All five defendants were arrested last week in Florida and Georgia, including Americans Luis Berkman, Bryan Berkman, and Philip Lichtenfeld, and former Bolivian official Sergio Rodrigo Mendez Mendizabal.

The defendants face charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

Murillo and Mendez had been detained by U.S. authorities, according to a Justice Department official, while the Americans had been released on bond.

Murillo served as Government Minister under former President Jeanine Anez, and came under fire in late 2019 for his heavy-handed military response to political protests.

No immediate comment was available from the defendants' lawyers.