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Bolivia Anti-Drug Chief Target of Both Bolivia and United States

BOLIVIA / 4 FEB 2022 BY SCOTT MISTLER-FERGUSON EN

The US indictment of Bolivia's former anti-narcotics chief on drug and weapons charges means he could possibly be extradited to the United States – a move that Bolivia will decide following his arrest there on charges of illicit enrichment.

Maximiliano Dávila Pérez, who served atop Bolivia's anti-drug agency (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico - FELCN) in 2019 under former President Evo Morales, faces charges of conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and a related weapons offense, according to a February 2 US Justice Department news release.

In the statement, US Attorney Damian Williams alleged that Dávila "worked in partnership with Bolivian drug labs and sought to send more than [1,000] kilograms of cocaine to the United States."

SEE ALSO: More Questions than Clarity Following Former Anti-Drug Chief’s Arrest in Bolivia

The announcement came a little more than a week after Bolivian authorities arrested Dávila on January 22, as he tried to flee to Argentina. Bolivia's Interior Ministry said in a statement that he was accused of "illicit enrichment and certain links with drug trafficking."

Hours before the Justice Department formally announced the charges against Dávila, the State Department pledged $5 million for information leading to his conviction. "Dávila is believed to have used his position to safeguard aircraft used to transport cocaine through third countries for distribution in the United States," officials said.

The United States has reportedly requested his extradition.

InSight Crime Analysis

After Dávila's tenure as the top anti-narcotics official was dogged by allegations of corruption and complicity with the Bolivian cocaine trade, prosecutors in the United States and Bolivia have both accused him of numerous crimes.

Investigations by the Interior Ministry have focused on Dávila's relationship with Jorge Roca Suárez, a longtime trafficker who previously spent nearly three decades in a US prison, and former police officer Omar Rojas Echeverría. Dávila is accused of providing cover for cocaine shipments the pair allegedly sent.

In April 2021, authorities in Peru arrested Roca Suárez, who is wanted by US prosecutors on drug trafficking charges. A month later, Colombian authorities arrested Rojas as part of the same operation that brought down Roca Suárez, according to the National Police. However, Colombian authorities have tied Rojas to trafficking just five kilograms of cocaine, according to Colombian court records.

The US prosecution of Dávila, meanwhile, is linked to a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation that began in 2017. That investigation led to the arrest of Percy Vásquez-Drew, who pleaded guilty in 2020 to smuggling 450 kilograms of cocaine into the United States, according to court documents in that case.

SEE ALSO: Bolivia News and Profile

In the sentencing agreement from that case, prosecutors say that DEA informants recorded Vásquez-Drew, who spoke of his connections to corrupt officials and his ability to access a military cargo plane to transport 60 tons of cocaine. According to the Associated Press, Vásquez-Drew is a co-defendant of Dávila.

"Vásquez-Drew also noted that he and other drug traffickers had been able to operate with impunity in Bolivia because the DEA and the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] had been 'kicked out' of the country several years ago, and the only remaining drug enforcement officials were willing to take bribes from Vásquez-Drew to facilitate drug trafficking," prosecutors wrote in the August 2020 court filing.

The simultaneous charges against Dávila are notable. The United States and Bolivia have stark differences on anti-drug policy, and Bolivian cocaine is not primarily destined for the US. US officials recognize that Colombia is the "world's top cocaine producer" and that Colombian cocaine "dominates the market" in the United States.

Most cocaine from Bolivia - the world's third top producer behind Peru - is handled by powerful family clans that play a key role in smuggling operations into Brazil. The drugs are then moved on to local consumers and European markets.

Still, questions about the integrity of the country's anti-narcotics unit are well-founded. Dávila marks the fourth top anti-drug official in Bolivia to be accused of having direct links to the cocaine trade.

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