U.S. court sentences ex-Bolivian interior minister to 6 years in bribery scheme

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Jan 4 (Reuters) - A federal U.S. court sentenced former Bolivian Interior Minister Arturo Murillo to nearly six years behind bars on Wednesday for conspiracy to commit money laundering, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.

Murillo pleaded guilty in October to receiving at least $532,000 in bribes from a Florida-based company in exchange for helping the company secure a lucrative tear gas contract with Bolivia's defense ministry.

He had laundered the money through the U.S. financial system, the department said.

Murillo was sentenced to 70 months in prison in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Another former Bolivian official and three Americans were sentenced in the United States last June after they also pleaded guilty to roles in the same scheme, the department said.

A former senator, Murillo served as interior minister between 2019 and 2020 during the interim government of President Jeanine Anez, who took power following political turmoil that led to President Evo Morales resigning and leaving the country.

Murillo fled after Morales's party retook power in 2020 and was arrested in Florida in May 2021.

Bolivia's government has requested Murillo's extradition to Bolivia, where he faces a host of criminal charges.

Bolivian Attorney General Wilfredo Chavez said in a news conference that Murillo's sentencing would advance extradition proceedings and that the government would take legal action to be paid $532,000 "as a victim" of Murillo's crime.

"Justice has spoken in the United States. We are satisfied with this judicial decision and we are going to make efforts for judicial actions (of extradition)," said Chavez.

Murillo's former boss Anez is serving a 10-year prison sentence for her role in what Bolivian authorities say was a coup that forced Morales out of office in 2019.

Reporting by Brendan O'Boyle and Daniel Ramos; Editing by Chris Reese and Bradley Perrett

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