MIAMI A former senior Bolivian anti-corruption official accused of trying to extort $30,000 from an ex-airline executive in Florida was denied bond by a Miami judge on Friday.
FBI agents arrested Mario Ormachea Aliaga, who had been deputy chief of Bolivia's police anti-corruption unit, in a sting operation on August 31 after he met with Humberto Roca, the former president of AeroSur, once Bolivia's largest private airline.
"All of his ties are to his home country," U.S. District Judge Jonathan Goodman said in court on Friday, saying that Ormachea might try to flee if released.
"Given the fact that he was a high-ranking official, he may have an opportunity to reach out to any number of his colleagues there" for help returning to Bolivia, he added.
Ormachea was identified in court documents as a police colonel, although a top Bolivian police official denied he held that rank and said he had been dismissed from his job on August 28.
Prosecutor John Byrne said, "We have not been able to confirm what position he held or holds" in the Bolivian National Police.
Roca fled Bolivia in 2010, saying he faced political persecution after prosecutors accused AeroSur of providing tickets to foreign mercenaries.
Last December, a Bolivian judge issued an arrest warrant for Roca for "illegal enrichment." Roca says the charges were politically motivated in an effort by Bolivian President Evo Morales to stamp out competition to the state-owned airline.
Ormachea offered to get the charges dropped against Roca in Bolivia "for a fee of $30,000," according to court documents, citing a conversation at Roca's home that was recorded by the FBI.
Ormachea is scheduled to be formally charged on Tuesday and faces a possible five-year prison sentence if convicted.
His court-appointed lawyer told the court that Ormachea was being treated for a pre-cancerous condition and had a wife and two small children in Bolivia.
"He has everything to lose if he doesn't face these charges," said his lawyer, Sowmya Bharathi.
Bolivia's deputy police chief, General Juan Roberto Albarracin, told reporters last week that Ormachea was a "deserter" and that his U.S. trip had not been officially approved.
(Editing by David Adams and Peter Cooney)