La Paz (AP) – Bolivian authorities issued an arrest warrant Thursday for the local president of Spanish-Argentine energy company Repsol YPF after he failed to testify in an oil-smuggling investigation.
A warrant for the arrest of Julio Gavito, who failed to ap-pear in court and has also missed earlier appointments, was issued by the city of Santa Cruz, said Henry Figueroa, a spokesman for the city’s district attorney’s office. The company’s offices were also raided, he said.
Two weeks ago, the Santa Cruz district attorney issued an arrest warrant for Gavito. It was later rescinded without explanation after the Spanish government expressed its concern to Bolivian President Evo Morales.
The Bolivian customs agency has alleged that Repsol subsidiary Andina S.A. illegally exported more than U.S.$9.2 million (euro 7.9 million) of oil - or 230,000 barrels - to Argentina and Chile between 2004 and 2005.
The warrant comes the day after Repsol officials issued a news release saying a judge had ordered a suspension of the investigation.
The judge said the customs agency and Andina should resolve the issue at an administrative level, not through a criminal investigation, it said.
Repsol’s attorney Abel Montano said issuing an arrest warrant for Gavito and searching the company’s offices was illegal because of the judge’s supposed suspension order.
Television images showed police officers in riot gear and officials from the district attorney’s office gathered Thursday outside Repsol’s offices.
Last Friday, Repsol president Antonio Brufau said during a visit to Bolivia that the company had not committed a crime. If an administrative error had oc-curred, the company would be willing to pay a fine, Brufau said.
Morales’ new government is in the early stages of renegotiating contracts with foreign energy companies operating in Bolivia - including Repsol.
Morales, a leftist critic of free-market policies, has pledged to increase state control of the country’s vast natural gas and oil reserves and impose tougher terms on multinational companies.