World / Crime & Legal

Bolivian leader's former lover is arrested for alleged influence-peddling


The former lover of Bolivian President Evo Morales, who was working as a high-ranking executive at a Chinese firm, has been arrested as part of a probe into alleged influence trafficking involving hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts.

Gabriela Zapata was taken into custody Friday amid confusing circumstances. The country’s chief prosecutor initially said his office had not ordered the arrest but then one of Morales’ top aides said the request was made by Bolivia’s anti-corruption agency, which considered her a flight risk.

It is unclear why she is being held, and she has yet to be charged. Zapata declined to speak with reporters when she was transported to a jail cell in southern La Paz.

The bombshell revelation this month of Morales’ past relationship with Zapata upended the final stretch of a referendum campaign aimed at allowing the president to seek re-election when his current term ends in 2020. Morales narrowly lost the vote, delivering a major blow to his decade-old leftist government.

In 2013, Zapata became general manager for Bolivia of China CAMC Engineering Co. Ltd., whose seven contracts with the state, all but one no-bid, are worth more than $500 million.

The Bolivian president has recognized his past relationship with Zapata, but says he has not seen her since 2007.

Opposition politicians accuse Morales of influence-trafficking through the Chinese firm, a claim he denies.