Uruguay’s Foreign Minister Francisco Bustillo resigned Wednesday after leaked phone calls to the local press suggested he tried to obstruct an investigation into the issuance of a passport to a convicted drug trafficker, triggering a political crisis for President Luis Lacalle Pou.
Local newspaper Busqueda published a November 2022 phone call in which Bustillo appeared to suggest that ex-deputy Foreign Minister Carolina Ache hide evidence. The foreign ministry didn’t respond to a request seeking comment.
Ache, who resigned last year, was questioned Wednesday by a public prosecutor investigating the case. The opposition has criticized the government for fast tracking a passport for Sebastian Marset — an Uruguayan citizen who served time for drug trafficking — that allowed him to leave the United Arab Emirates in late 2021 where he was detained for traveling with a fake Paraguayan passport. Lacalle Pou and his ministers have denied wrongdoing, saying they acted within the law.
Marset, 32, is wanted by Paraguay for alleged drug trafficking and money laundering, according to Interpol. He narrowly escaped capture in Bolivia earlier this year where he reportedly was living with his wife and children.
The resignation comes as Lacalle Pou is in Washington this week to attend a meeting between Latin American leaders and US President Joe Biden. Bustillo’s abrupt exit in the so-called Marset case adds to the growing list of government scandals in a country with a reputation for low levels of corruption. Transparency International’s most recent corruption index ranked Uruguay among the least corrupt nations in the Americas on a par with Canada.
Since taking office in March 2020, Lacalle Pou has fired his housing minister for allegedly giving homes to party members and accepted the resignation of his tourism minister for questionable procurement practices. Earlier this year, the president’s personal security chief was sentenced to four and a half years of prison for influence trafficking and other crimes including the use of government surveillance systems for personal gain.
The scandals have yet to cause lasting damage to Lacalle Pou approval ratings, which rose to 48% in a survey last month by pollster Equipos Consultores. Uruguay holds general elections in October 2024 in which Lacalle Pou is constitutionally prevented from seeking a second consecutive term.
Source: BNN Bloomberg