Marcelo Navajas, Bolivia’s health minister, has been arrested on suspicion of corruption related to the over-priced purchase of ventilators to fight COVID-19, the police chief said on Wednesday.
Navajas was detained by police in La Paz, Colonel Ivan Rojas said, a day after interim President Jeanine Anez ordered an investigation.
Two other health ministry officials have also been arrested.
Bolivia bought 179 ventilators from a manufacturer in Spain for $27,683 each, costing almost $5 million.
That was funded by the Inter-American Development Bank. Two of the bank’s employees have been summoned to make witness statements.
But it later transpired that the manufacturer was offering ventilators for 9,500-11,000 euros each ($10,312-$11,941).
Another Spanish company acted as an intermediary.
The scandal came to light at the end of last week when intensive care doctors complained that the ventilators were not suitable for Bolivian intensive care units.
It then came out that they had been bought at grossly inflated prices.
Bolivia has reported 4,500 COVID-19 cases and 190 deaths. On March 17, the government closed the landlocked South American country’s borders and instigated a general lockdown.