LA PAZ -  Bolivia's gold-and-emerald presidential medal, which dates back to the foundation of the republic in 1825, was stolen while its custodian visited a brothel, local media said Wednesday, quoting a police report. The custodian, identified by police as Lieutenant Roberto Juan de Dios Ortiz Blanco, had been meant to deliver the historic medal and a tricolor sash to the president to wear during his speech Wednesday in the central city of Cochabamba, according to a police report quoted by local media.

But his flight late Tuesday was delayed and the officer instead decided to visit various brothels, the report said.

"I entered a number of these different establishments (brothels) but then returned to where I left my motor car," the report quoted the custodian as having told police. "When I got there my backpack, which held the emblems of the nation, had been taken."

President Evo 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, which confirmed only that the custodian had been detained as part of an ongoing investigation.

"This is a hard blow for the republic, for the state," said former president Carlos Mesa, who compared the heist to "the theft of the crown of Queen Elizabeth II of England."

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 emeralds, is normally kept in a secure vault at the Central Bank but is delivered to the president for ceremonial occasions.

The defense ministry said 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."