Bolivian authorities have arrested Evo Morales' former mistress on corruption charges, in a politically charged case that has already put the president onto the defensive.
Morales' former lover Gabriela Zapata has been arrested and charged with illicit enrichment, influence peddling and laundering of illicit gains, reported El Deber.
According to the President his relationship with the then-teenage Zapata began in 2005 and ended 2007, after a son Morales fathered with Zapata died. Since then photos of the pair together in 2015 have surfaced as well as confirmation by Zapata's family members that the son is alive. Morales has responded by claiming the family lied to him about his illegitimate son's death and has said he wishes to reunite with the child, Radio Fides reported.
Additionally Zapata is a commercial manager at Chinese engineering firm CAMC. In recent years CAMC has benefitted from over $500 million worth of state contracts, the majority of which were directly granted to CAMC without competitive tenders open to other firms, Clarín reported.
During her arraignment a judge ruled Zapata a flight risk and placed her on preventative detention. Her trial date has yet to be announced.
InSight Crime Analysis
Several aspects of Zapata's case point towards Bolivia's issues with corruption.
First there is the obvious question of whether Zapata and CAMC benefitted from her connection to the President. It is not clear how she got such a prominent position within the firm, while the number of competition-free contracts awarded to CAMC have raised suspicions.
Additionally Morales' response to the scandal is also problematic. Reports of his relationship with Zapata first surfaced in early February as part of journalist Carlos Valverde's investigation into possible influence peddling within the government. Instead of addressing these allegations, the Morales administration accused Valverde of being a US undercover agent tasked with discrediting the government. Why Zapata would hide the child from the president is also unclear.
As the scandal persisted Morales only recently called for investigations into contracts with CAMC. However the first organ to conduct an investigation is Bolivia's State Comptroller, which is controlled by the ruling Movement for Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo - MAS) party, according to Clarín. The second investigation is a legislative inquiry, where MAS also holds a majority. With the investigations being largely handled by Morales' own supporters their objectivity could be called into question.
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On the larger scene, questions of corruption and accountably at the highest level of government may also tarnish efforts to reign in corruption within the police and judiciary, which is particularly critical given Bolivia's rising importance in the cocaine trade. There are still many questions for the president to answer and there may be some uncomfortable times ahead for him should the case against Zapata go to trial. There may be even more uncomfortable questions if the case does not go to trial.