Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

PERU: Fujimori Loses First Corruption Trial

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Jul 20 2009 (IPS) - Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison Monday for giving 15 million dollars in public funds to his security chief Vladimiro Montesinos in the last few weeks of his government.

Fujimori in court Credit: Peruvian judiciary

Fujimori in court Credit: Peruvian judiciary

Fujimori, who was found guilty of embezzlement and forgery and was also ordered to pay the state one million dollars in reparations, said he would appeal.

The money was given to Montesinos, widely regarded as the eminence grise of the Fujimori regime (1990-2000), as the government was collapsing in the midst of a corruption scandal.

Montesinos demanded the money in exchange for leaving the country.

The scandal that brought down Fujimori broke when videos emerged in August 2000 showing Montesinos bribing opposition politicians and judges. The former security chief, who filmed the videos himself, is now in prison on corruption and human rights charges.

Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in April for ordering an Army Intelligence Service (SIE) death squad to commit two massacres, in which 15 people were killed at a November 1991 barbecue in the Barrios Altos neighbourhood in Lima, and nine students and a professor were kidnapped from La Cantuta University in July 1992 and murdered.

Earlier, he had been handed a six-year sentence on charges of abuse of power for ordering an illegal search of the apartment of Montesinos’ wife.

Fujimori testified on Friday that after the first video was presented at a press conference by an opposition party, he discovered that Montesinos and the military brass were plotting a coup, but that after a few negotiations, his security chief agreed to fly to Panama if he was paid 15 million dollars in “compensation for his services.”

“The only way to ward off a worse evil for the country was to accept the condition set by Montesinos, who was literally selling his departure from the country,” said the former president. “I realised that the proposal was a concrete way to put an end to Montesinos’ coup attempts. So I reached the conclusion that, with the country at stake, I had to resort to an extreme measure.”

To get his hands on the money, Fujimori, along with then prime minister Federico Salas and then ministers of the economy and defence, Carlos Boloña and Carlos Bergamino, issued an emergency decree to transfer the funds to the army to finance a supposed campaign against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas along the border with that country.

The 15 million dollars were removed from the treasury on Sept. 22, 2000 and delivered to Montesinos in the National Intelligence Service (SIN) headquarters just a few hours before Fujimori’s erstwhile security chief flew to Panama in a jet chartered by Peru’s wealthiest and most powerful businessman, Dionisio Romero.

But Montesinos did not take the money with him.

Instead, he called arms dealers Zvi Sudit and James Stone – from whom he had received huge bribes deposited in Swiss bank accounts for weapons deals with the Peruvian state – to his SIN office and handed them the 15 million dollars to deposit in those accounts.

The court pointed out that on Nov. 2, 2000, the Swiss Embassy in Peru informed Fujimori that several bank accounts in Montesinos’ name had been found in Zurich containing deposits of over 50 million dollars. That same day, the then president called ministers Boloña and Bergamino to the government palace, to return the 15 million dollars to the state coffers.

Fujimori’s defence lawyer César Nakazaki argued that his client did not commit a crime because he paid back the funds. But the court ruled that embezzlement was committed regardless.

Lead prosecutor Avelino Guillén said “we showed that Fujimori bought Montesinos’ silence with the 15 million dollars…Fujimori has used the trial to make an electioneering speech, instead of clarifying, for example, where he got the 15 million dollars that he returned to the treasury. This will now be investigated by the prosecutor’s office, on orders from the court.

“He himself admitted that he found the 15 million dollars in the SIN and that he later took the funds to the government palace and 41 days later gave the money to the defence minister to pay back the sum he used to pay Montesinos,” said Guillén.

Only one of Fujimori’s four children, Kenyi, was in court Monday when the sentence was read out.

Nakazaki said “the judiciary wants Fujimori to die in jail and believes that by eliminating Fujimori, it will put an end to ‘Fujimorismo’. This was a political trial.”

On Friday, Fujimori said “the people will absolve me because nothing can stop the advance of ‘Fujimorismo’,” his supporters’ movement.

His daughter Keiko Fujimori, frontrunner in the polls for the 2011 elections, has promised to pardon her father if she becomes president.

According to Guillén, taking into account time served, Fujimori will be due for release on Feb. 10, 2032, at the age of 94.

He is also facing trial for three other cases, which have been merged into one: using public funds to purchase the Cable Canal De Noticias (CCN) cable news channel; bribing opposition legislators; and wiretapping opposition politicians and reporters.

Fujimori, who was living in Japan, unexpectedly flew to Chile in November 2005 and was immediately arrested. He was extradited to Peru in 2007.

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