FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A high-ranking Bolivian National Police official was sitting in a South Florida jail Thursday on U.S. charges that he tried to extort thousands of dollars from the former owner of a Bolivian airline.
According to an FBI affidavit filed in federal court, Mario Fabricio Ormachea Aliaga, 42, flew from La Paz, Bolivia to Miami on Aug. 29 to meet with Humberto Roca, who formerly ran Bolivia's AeroSur airline.
Roca previously had fled to the U.S. to avoid Bolivian charges alleging he provided tickets to what authorities there called anti-government foreign mercenaries. The FBI affidavit said that Roca calls the charges politically motivated and is seeking asylum in the U.S.
Before the meeting with Ormachea Aliaga — whom Roca referred to as the "Colonel" — Roca contacted the FBI on the advice of a lawyer. Agents monitored and recorded their meetings, during which Ormachea Aliaga — the No. 2 official in the national police's anticorruption unit — allegedly told Roca that in exchange for $30,000 "he would drop the charges against (Roca) and charge someone else instead," according to the FBI affidavit.
But if he refused to pay, Ormachea Aliaga told Roca he'd get him arrested in the U.S. and extradited to Bolivia to face charges of subversion, FBI agent Jason May wrote in the affidavit. After Roca gave him an initial $5,000 provided by the FBI, Ormachea Aliaga was arrested during a traffic stop and charged with traveling in foreign commerce to commit extortion.
The FBI affidavit says Ormachea Aliaga admitted after his arrest that he met with Roca but denied trying to shake him down. He also told the agents he was not traveling in his official capacity.
The deputy commander of Bolivia's police, Gen. Juan Roberto Albarracin, told reporters Wednesday night that Ormachea is a deserter and his trip to the United States was not officially sanctioned.
Albarracin said Ormachea Aliaga was removed from his job Aug. 28 and placed under investigation. He did not give details of the investigation or take questions from reporters.
Ormachea Aliaga has previously been accused of wrongdoing, including an accusation of extortion of a former police commander under investigation for corruption in the management of police housing.
The Ormachea Aliaga incident is the latest international embarrassment for the government of Bolivian President Evo Morales. In 2011, Bolivia's former counterdrug chief, Rene Sanabria, was arrested on charges of smuggling cocaine to the United States. He is serving a 14-year U.S. prison sentence. More recently, accusations by U.S. businessman Jacob Ostreicher led to the uncovering of an extortion ring led by a top Interior Ministry official.
Ormachea Aliaga initially appeared Tuesday in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, where a judge indicated he would appoint a public defender to represent him. A bail hearing is set for Friday and an arraignment for Sept. 17. The charge carries a potential five-year prison sentence.
AeroSur halted flights in June amid debts of about $100 million, including back taxes to the Bolivian government and $30 million to some 1,200 airline workers. Roca has claimed political persecution, arguing the government of Bolivian President Evo Morales drove AeroSur out of business in favor of the state-owned Boliviana de Aviacion airline.
Associated Press writer Carlos Valdez in La Paz, Bolivia, contributed to this report.
Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt