US charges ex-ambassador with spying for Cuba over decades

  • World
  • Tuesday, 05 Dec 2023

FILE PHOTO: Bolivian President Hugo Banzer shakes hands with Victor Manuel Rocha, the then U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia, during a ceremony in the Goverment Palace in La Paz, August 3, 2000. File photo DM/JP/HB

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Monday charged a former ambassador to Bolivia with spying for Cuba for over 40 years, in what the Justice Department described as one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the U.S. government by a foreign agent.

Victor Manuel Rocha, who served as U.S. ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002, was charged with committing multiple federal crimes including acting as an illegal foreign agent and using a fraudulently obtained passport, the Justice Department said in a statement.

"We allege that for over 40 years, Victor Manuel Rocha served as an agent of the Cuban government and sought out and obtained positions within the United States government that would provide him with access to non-public information and the ability to affect U.S. foreign policy," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in the statement.

Rocha, 73, was arrested and is expected to appear before a federal judge in Miami on Monday. He was not immediately reachable for comment.

Rocha worked for the State Department from 1981 to 2002, the Justice Department said. He served on the White House's National Security Council from 1994 to 1995, and worked as an adviser to the Commander of the U.S. military's Southern Command from around 2006 to around 2012, the department added.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters he was unable to provide details on an ongoing law enforcement matter.

“We will in the coming days, weeks, months, work with our partners in the intelligence community to assess any long-term national security implications for this matter," Miller said at a regular press briefing.

In a court document filed in the southern district of Florida, the U.S. accuses Rocha of having secretly supported Cuba and its clandestine intelligence-gathering mission against Washington since 1981.

Rocha admitted his decades of work for Cuba in a series of meetings in 2022 and 2023 with an undercover FBI agent who posed as a covert Cuban General Directorate of Intelligence representative, according to the court document.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward, Katharine Jackson, Ismail Shakil and Simon Lewis; editing by Rami Ayyub and Bill Berkrot)

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