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Bolivia vice president blames officials for clearing LaMia charter

Bolivia Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera blamed "second-level government officials" for clearing charter airline LaMia to operate, an authorisation that led to the crash that killed 71 people en route to Medellin, Colombia, last week.

A Bolivian judge on Thursday ordered that the head of the ill-fated chartered airline, Gustavo Vargas Gamboa, whose plane carrying Brazilian football team Chapecoense crashed in the Andes last week, be detained while authorities investigate him for possible charges of manslaughter and other crimes.

In an interview with La Razon newspaper in Bolivia, Garcia Linera said that the officials of the Civil Aeronautics General Board (DGAC) never communicated with the government their decision to authorise LaMia's charter because they knew the request would have been rejected.

Garcia Linera insisted that the authorisation to allow the charter to fly was "an act of negligence, a clear lack of knowledge of the norms and standards and an arbitrary management of the state's decision-making operation."

He added that the officials "must be punished with incarceration without protection or pardon for anyone."

He said that the officials used their positions to conduct "personal business," which is an act that "resulted in a crime" and that all officials of the country's aviation administration as well as the DGAC found to be involved in the authorisation of the charter "will all be charged."

Garcia Linera said that neither he nor Bolivia President Evo Morales knew that there was a fourth airline registered in the country. He said the country has authorised the state-run airline, BOA, plus two other small private companies only.

Morales and other top-ranking officials used LaMia last month to fly to the Amazon, but officials clarified that they did not know it was an official airline.

Bolivia also permits the military airline TAM in its air space, although that service will be suspended next week until the airline meets international standards, according to a statement issued by the Bolivian government on Thursday.

LaMia began as a Venezuelan company but was later incorporated as a Bolivian company and according to its executives, received international clearance on July 21, 2015 to fly both charters and international flights under the direction of interim chief Edgar Pereyra.

The general prosecutor in Bolivia said that the CEO of LaMia, Gustavo Vargas Gamboa, requested permission in 2014 to import the plane that crashed last week near Medellin. That permission was granted to his son, Gustavo Vargas Villegas, who was the director of the national Aeronautics Registry of the DGAC.

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