Bolivia energy head sacked in corruption probe
January 31, 2009 - Reuters

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivian President Evo Morales sacked the head of state energy firm YPFB on Saturday during an investigation into a corruption case that involved the murder of an energy company manager.

Morales swore in his current planning minister and former energy minister, Carlos Villegas, to replace Santos Ramirez and to become the sixth head of YPFB in three years.

"This is an emergency designation to do away with corruption," Morales said. "Comrade Villegas is in charge of cleaning up the administration of YPFB, intervening in every level."

Ramirez, a former head of the Senate from Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party who had been in charge of YPFB since March last year, on Friday denied involvement in corruption.

He rejected accusations that he solicited a bribe in 2008 to grant an $86 million contract to Argentine-Bolivian company Catler Uniservice to build a natural gas processing plant.

Earlier this week, Catler manager Jorge O'Connor was killed and robbed of $450,000 in cash that allegedly was going to be handed over to a Ramirez aide, according to police.

State prosecutors and a special Senate committee are investigating Ramirez for his role in the case.

Morales nationalized Bolivia's natural gas industry soon after taking office three years ago and put YPFB in charge of the country's biggest industry. Ramirez was one of the architects of the nationalization.

(Reporting by Carlos Quiroga; Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Bill Trott)