Exhibit 3,304,034,098 of how South American political intrigue crash lands in South Florida: this week, a top-rung Bolivian police official made an appearance in a Fort Lauderdale federal court.
Mario Fabricio Ormachea Aliaga - known (no kidding) by the perfect Bond-villain moniker, "the Colonel" - is accused of coming to the US to squeeze a bribe from an exiled Bolivian businessman currently seeking asylum from the government of President Evo Morales.
The irony (or maybe it's not irony, maybe it just makes complete sense) is that the Colonel is actually the top guy in the country's Anti-Corruption Unit. And he allegedly has a backlog of shady dealings at home, including possible links to narco crime and similar shakedowns.
The target of the extortion was Humberto Roca, formerly the controlling owner of Bolivia's AeroSur airline. Once the country's dominant air carrier, AeroSur was edged out of the market by Boliviana de Aviacion, a state-owned airline that's one of the few successful publicly-controlled enterprises set up under Morales' watch.
The public-private face off became political when the government began investigating Roca. In 2010 he fled to the US after Bolivian officials charged him with giving tickets to anti-government foreign mercenaries.
Those are the legal issue the Colonel allegedly promised he could take care of for the right price. According to the FBI affidavit filed in federal court, Roca (although he's only referred to as "HR" in the filing) told his lawyer in late August that a "foreign police official" wanted to meet the business man in the states. The attorney advised Roca visit the FBI, which he did.
When the two men met near Roca's Miami Lakes home last Saturday, the Colonel laid his offer on the table: he could make the businessman's criminal charges disappear for $30,000. If Roca didn't want to hand over the cash, the Colonel promised he would have him arrested in the states and extradited back to Bolivia for prosecution. The businessman gave the Colonel $5,000 as a down payment.
As he drove away, Ormachea Aliaga was pinched by the FBI. Agents had been monitoring the conversations and marked the $5,000. After being taken into custody, the Colonel acknowledged he'd met with Roca, but denied the extortion deal. He also claimed he was "not traveling in his official capacity as a diplomat of Bolivia."
"The FBI quickly moved in and arrested Ormachea after he received the extortion monies from Roca," Roca's attorney Michael Diaz Jr. said yesterday in a release. According to Roca's lawyer, his client's political persecution is coming from the top level of Morales' government.
"This is continued proof of Roca's innocence. His business was taken from him for political reasons, forcing Roca and his family to flee his homeland. We will continue fighting to clear his name and recover the losses from the Bolivian government's illegal expropriation of Roca's assets."
On Wednesday, the top guy in Bolivia's national police, General Juan Roberto Albarracin, told the media that Ormachea Aliaga had deserted from his post and his trip to the states was unsanctioned. But if you read the resume put together by WikileaksBolivia.org, you'll see the Colonel's rogue activity might not be limited to this one incident.
The web site says Ormachea Aliaga was one of 12 individuals investigated by the country's Supreme Court for "falsificación de pólizas" in 2009. The Colonel was the only one not convicted. The site claims his name came up in an investigation into a botched drug hit on a lawyer in Santa Cruz. And last year a complaint was filed against Ormachea Aliaga alleging the official made a similar extortion squeeze on the target of an investigation.
The Colonel has a bond hearing today.