Top guard to Uruguay president detained in Russian passport scheme

MONTEVIDEO, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Uruguay's police arrested the head of the president's personal security detail on Monday at the presidential residence for allegedly participating in a scheme to help possibly hundreds of Russian nationals illegally obtain Uruguayan passports.

Prosecutor Gabriela Fossati said on Monday night that President Luis Lacalle Pou's security chief, Alejandro Astesiano, was being investigated for participating in a criminal ring that created fake Russian birth certificates that claimed Uruguayan parents.

The goal was for the Russians to be able to obtain passports and other official identity documents, she said.

"We're talking about dozens of people, hundreds," said Fossati.

According to police sources cited by local media, Astesiano used contacts that allowed him to process the required documentation to acquire passports for the Russians.

Many Russians have been leaving their country since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and many more still since President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilisation on Wednesday.

News of the arrest of Astesiano, who was detained shortly after returning to Uruguay from a trip with Lacalle Pou and his sons, appeared to have left the president shaken.

"I'm as surprised as you all are," the president said at a news conference he abruptly called on Monday in the capital Montevideo. "I'm sick," he added.

Lacalle Pou promised that prosecutors and police working on the case will be independent, and he denied other reports that Astesiano had a criminal record.

Earlier on Monday, local outlets reported on 20 prior inquiries into the security chief covering allegations of fraud, misappropriation and theft, among others.

Reporting by Fabian Werner; Editing by David Gregorio and Sandra Maler

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.