LA PAZ – Less than 24 hours after they were stolen from an official vehicle, the Bolivian presidential medal and sash have been returned, police said Wednesday.
Authorities received an anonymous call alerting them that the two objects, which were in perfect condition, had been found in a backpack left in St. Peter’s Church in downtown La Paz, police Col. Jhonny Aguilera told reporters.
The items were stolen Tuesday night in El Alto, a gritty industrial city neighboring La Paz, from a government vehicle driven by the military officer responsible for transporting the presidential regalia.
Security videos posted on social media show the moment when a person forced open one of the vehicle’s doors, while another person stands guard.
The military officer, an army lieutenant, reported the theft to the police and said that it took place while the vehicle was parked in a notorious red-light district of El Alto.
The lieutenant, now under arrest for dereliction of duty, told police he spent time in “several hostess bars.”
Morales’ predecessor, Carlos Mesa, was irate over news of the theft.
“The most important symbol of our republican history, the presidential medal which was handed down by Simon Bolivar, stolen outside a bordello in the city of El Alto!!,” the former president said on social media.
“Bolivia’s most important jewel was stolen from an official of the presidential guard who was transporting the medal as if it were a soccer ball,” Mesa wrote.
The Defense Ministry said earlier that the army was “exclusively responsible” for the safekeeping of the two objects “during national celebrations,” as in the case of Bolivia’s independence day, which was celebrated on Monday.
“Bolivia’s Central Bank is in charge of the permanent safekeeping of the emblems in its security vaults, and they are put at the disposal of the army,” the ministry said.
President Evo Morales arrived Wednesday morning in the city of Cochabamba to take part in events marking national armed forces day without the emblems.
According to the Historical Research Society of Potosi, the medal was given to Bolivia by South American liberator Simon Bolivar in 1825 to mark the country’s independence, having an “incalculable monetary value” not only because of the gold and diamonds used to manufacture it but also because of its historical importance.