Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

CORRUPTION-PERU: Ex-Ministers’ Testimony Could Sink Fujimori

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Jun 2 2009 (IPS) - The Peruvian justice system has the confessions of three convicted former ministers in the government of former President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), to support corruption charges against him, prosecutor Avelino Guillén told IPS.

Carlos Boloña,Alberto Fujimori and Federico Salas Credit: Palacio de Gobierno de Perú

Carlos Boloña,Alberto Fujimori and Federico Salas Credit: Palacio de Gobierno de Perú

At the trial, which is due to begin this month, Guillén will seek an eight-year sentence for the former head of state, who was already sentenced to 25 years in April in connection with human rights violations committed during his term.

On Sept. 14, 2000, opposition lawmakers released a video, secretly recorded by Fujimori’s powerful security adviser Vladimiro Montesinos, showing the latter bribing lawmaker Alberto Kouri to vote with the “Fujimorista” bloc in order to secure a parliamentary majority for the government.

The public airing of the video forced Fujimori to sack Montesinos as his adviser and de facto head of the National Intelligence Service (SIN).

The president had begun his third consecutive term of office on Jul. 28, 2000 after elections widely regarded as fraudulent. He was toppled from power on Nov. 21, 2000, when parliament dismissed him on the grounds of “moral incapacity.”

To persuade the potentially embarrassing Montesinos to leave the country for Panama, the president gave him 15 million dollars from public funds – the main crime Fujimori is now being charged with.

According to the prosecution, the former president obtained the money by mounting a fake military operation to combat a supposed border infiltration by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.

Then defence minister Carlos Bergamino requested the sum of 15 million dollars for so-called “Operation Sovereignty”, and then economy minister Carlos Boloña authorised the disbursement, with the approval of the prime minister at the time, Federico Salas, the prosecution claims.

“Boloña, Bergamino and Salas have confessed that ‘Operation Sovereignty’ was a scam and that Fujimori asked them to get hold of the money to give to Montesinos,” said deputy prosecutor Guillén. “It’s also relevant that Montesinos testified that Fujimori gave him 15 million dollars in cash.”

Two of the three judges who convicted Fujimori for human rights violations will be hearing the trial for bribery. The third judge, Hugo Príncipe, may be replaced because of objections by Fujimori’s defence lawyers.

“The evidence is overwhelming, so we think this will be a speedy trial,” Guillén said.

The charge sheet written by the prosecutor, which was seen by IPS, says that Montesinos agreed to go to Panama if the president awarded him a “bonus” of 1.5 million dollars for every year he had worked for him. This works out at 125,000 dollars per month over that period.

Since Montesinos’ official monthly salary was 450 dollars, the prosecution regards the enormous sum as a bribe, rather than “remuneration for time served.”

Following Fujimori’s orders, on Sept. 22, 2000, the administrative head of the Defence Ministry, General Luis Muente, handed over 15 million dollars in cash to Montesinos at his SIN office.

“The prosecution believes that Fujimori paid 15 million dollars to Montesinos to buy his silence,” said Guillén. “Fujimori acceded to Montesinos’ demand because Montesinos’ position and working relationship with him meant he had full knowledge of the then president’s activities.”

Montesinos did not take the money to Panama with him. According to a statement by an arms dealer, James Stone Cohen, “Montesinos called him to his SIN office and gave him the money, asking him to transfer it to his Swiss bank accounts,” Guillén told IPS. Stone went to Montesinos’ office in the company of another arms dealer, Zvi Sudit.

Stone testified that “on Montesinos’ last day in Lima he asked Sudit and me to help him transfer to his bank accounts (in Switzerland) the sum of 15 million dollars which, he said, he had received in compensation. The money was received a few hours before Montesinos flew to Panama. Later Sudit arranged the transfer to Switzerland.”

Montesinos trusted the two arms dealers because they regularly deposited into his accounts the kickbacks he took for purchasing weapons for the Peruvian state.

Fujimori returned the 15 million dollars to the Defence Ministry budget on Nov. 2, 2000. He called Minister Bergamino to his office in the government palace, and with Boloña as a witness, he handed over several suitcases with the money, carried by Peru’s ambassador to Japan, Víctor Aritomi, Fujimori’s brother-in-law.

This is evidence that the former president handled cash in his office that was part of a secret fund administered by the SIN, made up of monies siphoned off the defence and interior ministries, according to Montesinos’ testimony.

The prosecution’s accusation concludes “there is sufficient proof of the illegal use of public funds by ex-President Fujimori, who was fully aware that the funds did not belong to him.”

The leading figures in the case, especially the three former ministers Salas, Boloña and Bergamino, admitted their guilt during trial and were convicted of embezzlement on Feb. 28, 2005. Montesinos is also behind bars, convicted of several crimes.

This will be the first time that Fujimori faces trial for corruption, since his extradition from Chile in 2007.

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