Uruguay President Overhauls Cabinet Amid Passport Scandal

Uruguay President Overhauls Cabinet Amid Passport Scandal

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(Bloomberg) — Uruguay’s President Luis Lacalle Pou on Saturday reshuffled his cabinet amid accusations that members of his government tried to obstruct an investigation into a passport issued to an alleged drug trafficker.

The president accepted the resignation of the senior leadership of the foreign relations and interior ministries but denied the country was in the midst of an institutional crisis. 

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“This is a political problem that has a political solution,” Lacalle Pou told reporters in Montevideo after a meeting with members of his ruling coalition. 

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He named Nicolas Martinelli to replace Interior Minister Luis Alberto Heber and said Industry and Energy Minister Omar Paganini would lead the foreign ministry. Elisa Facio will replace Paganini at the industry and energy ministry. Lacalle Pou confirmed that Roberto Lafluf, his adviser on communications strategy, had resigned.

The cabinet shakeup follows the publication Nov. 1 of phone calls by local newspaper Busqueda that suggested former foreign minister Francisco Bustillo tried to hide evidence from a probe into how convicted drug-trafficker Sebastian Marset obtained a passport. Bustillo, who has denied wrongdoing, resigned the same day the calls were made public.

Read more: Uruguay’s Foreign Minister Resigns in Narco Passport Scandal

Uruguay’s deepest political crisis in years stems from the government’s decision to fast track a passport for Marset — a 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 said they acted within the law when issuing the passport.

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Paraguay subsequently issued an international arrest order for Marset on drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges. Marset, 32, remains at large.

The Marset case adds to the growing list of government scandals in a country with a reputation for low levels of corruption. Lacalle Pou fired his housing minister this year for allegedly giving homes to party loyalists and accepted the resignation of the tourism minister for questionable procurement practices. The former chief of presidential security is currently serving a four-and-a-half-year prison term for crimes including influence trafficking.

Uruguay holds general elections in October next year. Lacalle Pou is constitutionally prevented from seeking a second consecutive term.

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