Bolivia fires cabinet minister suspected of helping drug trafficker

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) - Bolivia yielded to what it termed U.S. pressure Friday and forced the resignation of a Cabinet minister reputed to have helped get an Italian man acquitted of drug trafficking charges.

The Bolivian government stressed that it had no evidence of wrongdoing by Information Minister Jorge Landivar, but agreed to ask him to resign in order to preserve good relations with the United States.

The friction was unusual, considering Bolivia has been a strong ally of U.S. efforts to fight drug trafficking and has been highly successful in reducing the country's cocaine production, currently the third-largest in Latin America.

Landivar's forced resignation came two weeks after the U.S. Embassy here expressed ''strong disappointment'' over the acquittal two weeks ago of Italian Marco Marino Diodato, the husband of President Hugo Banzer's niece and an honorary officer in the Bolivian army.

''We have no evidence that Minister Landivar influenced the not-guilty ruling, but the embassy of the United States pressured for him to be removed from the government,'' Interior Minister Walter Guiteras said.

The Bolivian government admitted irregularities occurred in the trial, criticized the acquittal and appealed the verdict. For his part, Banzer distanced himself from Diodato, saying there was solid evidence against him and calling for a full investigation.

Neither government explained how Landivar supposedly interfered with the trial; but Landivar had publicly said during the trial he thought Diodato was innocent.

Guiteras said he extensively discussed Landivar's alleged support for Diodato with American officials. The U.S. Embassy never made a public request for his resignation and it refused to comment on whether it had pressured Bolivia.

Diodato and six others were found innocent of cocaine production and trafficking by a drug court in the tropical city of Santa Cruz, 560 miles east of La Paz.

Diodato, 35, was arrested last year after he was caught cloning cellular cell telephones.

Police also accused him of wiretapping communications among anti-drug agents, operating cocaine labs and filming government officials and politicians in sexual encounters with prostitutes, allegedly in order to blackmail them. Officials said Diodato has links with Italian Mafia.

Diodato's attorney claimed cocaine labs already existed on a Bolivian farm when the Italian bought it; the court agreed, saying there was insufficient evidence against Diodato and the other defendants, who included Italians, Bolivians and Argentines.

Diodato is held at the Palmasola prison in Santa Cruz, pending additional charges for intercepting phone calls and operating illegal gambling casinos.


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