Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

Q&A: Fujimori Will Serve "At Least 18 Years"

Ángel Páez interviews JOSÉ ANTONIO PELÁEZ, Alberto Fujimori's prosecutor

LIMA, Apr 28 2009 (IPS) - It is highly unlikely that the Peruvian Supreme Court will overturn or reduce the 25-year sentence handed down to former president Alberto Fujimori, because the verdict is well-supported, said chief prosecutor José Antonio Peláez.

In this interview with IPS, the state prosecutor also noted that first-degree murder, one of the crimes of which Fujimori was convicted and sentenced on Apr. 7, is not subject to pardon.

Taking into account time served on remand, Fujimori will be due for release on Feb. 10, 2032, at the age of 94.

The most Keiko Fujimori, the ex president's daughter who promised to pardon him if she wins the 2011 elections, will be able to do is grant him the existing prison benefits, namely release on parole after 18 years in prison, said Peláez, who acted in the trial together with his deputy, Avelino Guillén.

Fujimori, who governed Peru from 1990 to 2000, was convicted of authorising an Army Intelligence Service (SIE) death squad known as the Colina group, which murdered 15 civilians in the Lima district of Barrios Altos on Nov. 3, 1991, and kidnapped and killed nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University on Jul. 18, 1992.

He was also convicted of the aggravated kidnapping of journalist Gustavo Gorriti and businessman Samuel Dyer, who were seized by the military on Apr. 5, 1992 – the day that Fujimori dissolved parliament and suspended constitutional guarantees in a "self-coup" that was backed by the armed forces.

IPS: Fujimori has appealed his sentence. What are his chances of getting it reduced or revoked? JOSÉ ANTONIO PELÁEZ: The Supreme Court, which is the final court of appeal, has three alternatives: to uphold the sentence, reduce it, or declare it null and void and order a new trial if it finds there were irregularities or violations of constitutional rights in the trial.

But given the compelling, well-supported nature of this sentence, as well as the formidable array of evidence, I do not think the penalty will be modified, much less reduced, because there would have to be mitigating circumstances, and there really aren't any.

IPS: Could he obtain a reduced sentence if he admits the crimes he is convicted of? JAP: It's possible, but it would be extremely unlikely, because at no time has he ever admitted to any of the charges.

IPS: He never expressed remorse or admitted to making any mistakes? JAP: Never. On the contrary, it has been established that when the press brought to light the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta killings, Fujimori used the clandestine power structures to cover up for those responsible, reward them with money so that they would not talk, and as if that were not enough, to amnesty them.

IPS: If the Supreme Court confirms the 25-year sentence, what benefits can Fujimori expect, and when would he be released? JAP: There is debate about the contents of the laws in force when the crimes were committed, in 1991 and 1992. The law on kidnapping cases said that the convict could be granted one day of grace for every seven days in prison. But this will be a matter for arduous debate.

IPS: If this law were enforced, when would Fujimori get out of prison, approximately? JAP: In about 18 years.

IPS: Keiko Fujimori, his eldest daughter and the present leader of his party in parliament, has said that if she becomes president of Peru she will pardon her father. Could she do so? JAP: There is a law prohibiting pardons for those convicted of certain crimes, including first-degree murder. It is therefore impossible at this time to grant any kind of pardon, because it would be against the law.

IPS: The defence insists that there is no proof that Fujimori ordered the killings at Barrios Altos and La Cantuta, but at the trial former SIE agents testified that when they took part in the massacres, they had no doubt that they had the backing of the president. JAP: Yes, seven former members of the Colina group who participated in the crimes said so. They testified at the trial that they took part in these actions with the conviction that they were obeying orders from high up, because they were not a gang of common criminals or hired killers, but army intelligence agents.

They said they were given a free hand and every facility to carry out their missions, which they had no doubt the head of state knew about.

They had all the more reason for this assumption, as the intermediary between the Colina group and Fujimori was his adviser Vladimiro Montesinos, whom the president had authorised to liaise with the intelligence services in his name.

The witnesses said that Montesinos met with the SIE agents' commander, Major Santiago Martín Rivas.

IPS: Couldn't Montesinos have acted without Fujimori's knowledge? JAP: Impossible. They used to meet together at night until the early hours to share their secrets. That is why Fujimori never accused Montesinos (now in prison on corruption charges) of anything.

IPS: Was this a pact of silence? JAP: That's right. Fujimori never uttered a word against his former adviser. He did not criticise him, because Montesinos was the man he put directly in charge of the intelligence apparatus. And he did not incriminate him, in order to hide the fact that Montesinos acted with Fujimori's approval.

IPS: Was there not a single word of condemnation? JAP: Not one. The harshest thing Fujimori has had to say about Montesinos was: "he has let me down." Nothing else.

IPS: Nor did he condemn retired General Nicolás Hermoza, army chief for seven of the 10 years of Fujimori's government, who was found to have millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts. JAP: That's right. The fact that neither Fujimori nor the men who were part of his chain of command, Montesinos and Hermoza, have ever expressed remorse or admitted any guilt or mistakes is precisely because they were part of a powerful apparatus headed by Fujimori. They have protected each other. In contrast, those who carried out their orders, the Colina group agents, did admit to committing the murders.

IPS: When the sentence was read out, the court declared that the 25 victims of Barrios Altos and La Cantuta were not terrorists, as the killers had tried to paint them. Why was this clarification necessary? JAP: It was necessary to vindicate people who never had the opportunity to defend themselves from the presumption that they were terrorists. They were never questioned, never prosecuted and never tried, let alone convicted.

The court added this clarification because Fujimori's supporters falsely claim that they were terrorists, and this is not true. It was never proved.

IPS: Was Fujimori convicted of crimes of omission or commission? JAP: For crimes of commission. He was convicted of being the person behind the deeds, with control over the crimes and control of the organisation.

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