Bolivian health minister sacked for alleged ventilator kickback scheme

Bolivia’s interim president, Jeanine Anez, on Wednesday fired Health Minister Marcelo Navajas for his alleged role in a kickback scheme involving the purchase of 170 Spanish-made ventilators at inflated prices for COVID-19 patients.

After Navajas was arrested by the police earlier in the day, Communications Minister Isabel Fernandez broke the news to the media.

“The president has decided to remove Marcelo Navajas as Health Minister to avoid any interference in the work of the justice (department) and impeding the investigations,” said Fernandez.

Current Deputy Health Minister Eydi Roca will “temporarily fill the position,” she added.

Other officials under investigation for taking part in the scheme have also been fired, said Fernandez.

Two officials were arrested on Monday, including the head of the Health Ministry’s legal department, Fernando Valenzuela, and the executive general director of the AISEM, the agency in charge of procuring medical equipment, Giovani Pacheco.

Two advisers from the Inter-American Development Bank, who approved the purchase, were also arrested on Wednesday.

Justice Minister Alvaro Coimbra pledged there will be no impunity.

“It doesn’t matter whether (the accused) is minister, deputy minister or director, they are going to be tried,” he said.