Bolivia’s historic presidential medal and sash were stolen from a guard’s car while the officer visited a brothel.
Lieutenant Roberto Ortiz was meant to deliver the priceless regalia to President Evo Morales to wear during a speech on Wednesday in Cochabamba.
But his Tuesday night flight from La Paz was delayed so he decided to visit some brothels in the El Alto district.
When he got back to his car, he was shocked to find his backpack containing the regalia had been stolen.
Former president Carlos Mesa compared the loss of the medal to ‘the theft of the crown of Queen Elizabeth II of England.’
Luckily, police found the items after the Peruvian thieves dumped them in the portico of a church in the city center.
According to a police report, Ortiz told officers: ‘I entered a number of these different establishments (brothels) but then returned to where I left my motor car.’
‘When I got there my backpack, which held the emblems of the nation, had been taken.’
Police Colonel Jhonny Aguilera said officers found the items in black bags after TV station Unitel informed him of an anonymous from a passer-by.
Morales – who last wore the emblems on August 6 during celebrations marking Bolivia’s 193rd anniversary – appeared at the Cochabamba military parade Wednesday with neither medal nor sash.
He made no reference to their absence or to the theft, which had first been reported by the ministry of defense.
The custodian of the medal had been detained as part of an investigation.
Aguilera, the police spokesman, said Peruvian thieves were believed to have been behind the robbery of his backpack and that authorities on the border with Peru were on the look out for the suspects.
The medal was a gift from the Congress of the recently formed Bolivian republic to its founder in 1825 and was first used in 1826 as the presidential medal by Antonio Jose de Sucre.
The gold medal, encrusted with precious stones, is normally kept in a secure vault at the Central Bank in La Paz but is delivered to the president for ceremonial occasions.
The defense ministry said earlier that the ‘intelligence service and all state institutions have been placed at the disposal of investigators to find those responsible for this theft as quickly as possible.’