(Corrects Villegas' previous title to planning minister
from public works minister in ninth paragraph)
By Eduardo Garcia
LA PAZ Feb 12 A Bolivian judge ordered on
Thursday the detention of a former head of state energy company
YPFB, Santos Ramirez, who has been charged with corruption in a
scandal that has prompted the government to fire dozens of
Leftist President Evo Morales fired Ramirez last month as
police launched an investigation into accusations he solicited
a bribe in 2008 to grant an $86 million contract to
Argentine-Bolivian company Catler Uniservice to build a natural
"(The judge) ordered the preventive detention of former
YPFB president Santos Ramirez ... in the San Pedro jail, in La
Paz," state-run news agency ABI said on Thursday.
Ramirez has been in custody since Tuesday, but the public
prosecutor's office requested his temporary detention because
they feared he could try to derail the investigation if
He has been formally accused of several crimes, including
soliciting a bribe and financial mismanagement.
Meanwhile, the new head of YPFB, Carlos Villegas, sacked 74
workers from the company's headquarters on Thursday, accusing
some of them of corruption. He said others had to go because
the company was overstaffed.
A YPFB spokesperson told Reuters that the company's head
office in La Paz employs some 250 people.
"The number of employees has increased dramatically, and
without reason," said the spokesperson, who asked not to be
Villegas has worked as energy minister and planning
minister and became the sixth head of YPFB in three years late
last month pledging to fight corruption.
Police began investigating Ramirez when 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.
Morales nationalized Bolivia's natural gas industry soon
after taking office three years ago and put YPFB in charge of
managing the country's biggest industry.
YPFB runs a number of energy companies that were in the
hands of foreign investors until recently, including the only
two oil refineries in Bolivia and the largest pipeline
But YPFB has not delivered on promises to invest heavily to
increase the country's natural gas production capacity and has
struggled to tackle fuel shortages in the Andean country.
The company had pledged to invest $1 billion this year.
Ramirez, a leading figure in the ruling Movement Toward
Socialism party, was head of the Senate from 2006 to 2007 and
was one of the architects of the energy nationalization.
Bolivia has the second-largest natural gas reserves in
South America after Venezuela and is the region's largest
exporter of the fuel.
The impoverished country exported over $3 billion worth of
natural gas to Argentina and Brazil in 2009.
(Editing by Eric Beech)