Five held for training child to pretend he was president's son

Bolivian President Evo Morales has acknowledged he had a child with former girlfriend Gabriela Zapata, but said the boy died soon after birth (AFP Photo/ABI-PRESIDENCIA ) (AFP/File)

La Paz (AFP) - Bolivia has arrested five people for allegedly coaching a boy to pretend he was President Evo Morales' son, and paying his family, in a soap opera-style scandal that has riveted the country, officials said Saturday.

"The boy was told his entire education would be paid for, that he would be given a plot of land, in addition to as much as $15,000 to the boy's parents," top prosecutor Ramiro Guerrero told reporters.

The detained suspects were not immediately identified. But they are close to Gabriela Zapata, a former girlfriend of the single president, with whom he had a son who died in 2009, Guerrero said.

They were charged with conspiracy, people trafficking and blocking the execution of government obligations.

Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, acknowledged he had a child with Zapata, but said the boy died soon after birth. Zapata had insisted he was alive before recently changing her story.

A former manager at Chinese engineering group CAMC, Zapata, 28, has been accused of using her ties to the president to land $560 million in government contracts for the company.

The case exploded onto the political scene just as Bolivia prepared to hold a referendum on whether to change the constitution to allow Morales, 56, to run for a fourth term.

Morales, who has been in office since 2006, went on to lose the February 21 vote.

He underwent court-ordered DNA testing in April to resolve the paternity case.

But Zapata refused to present the child for testing, saying the state medical officials in charge could fake the results.

Amid the scandal, Congress opened an investigation after the government admitted Zapata used state offices and employees to carry out CAMC business, but ruled Morales was not at fault.