Peru: Vladimiro Montesinos' Return Is Just First Step

NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, July 13, 2001 | Go to article overview

Peru: Vladimiro Montesinos' Return Is Just First Step


[The following article by Barbara J. Fraser is reprinted with the permission of Noticias Aliadas in Lima, Peru. It first appeared in the July 9, 2001, edition of the weekly publication Latinamerica Press.]

Former Peruvian national security adviser Vladimiro Montesinos was returned to Peru on June 25, a day after he was captured in Venezuela. Just days earlier, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had flown to Peru where he met with president-elect Alejandro Toledo and promised that his country would do everything possible to apprehend Montesinos.

The former spy chief, who fled Peru last year amid a corruption scandal that toppled the government of President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), was long believed to be in Venezuela. Critics in Peru charged that top officials in the Chavez government, including high military commanders, were protecting Montesinos (see NotiSur, 2001-02-02).

Now that Montesinos is back in Peru after eight months as a fugitive, the country faces a dual challenge: trying him in a legal system that, until recently, he controlled, and rewriting the rules after a decade in which corruption became deeply rooted in public administration.

In a survey done in February and March as part of an anti-corruption program funded by the World Bank, citizens and government functionaries identified corruption as one of the country's top problems, second only to unemployment, while businesspeople ranked it as the greatest obstacle to development.

The magnitude of the problem has become more evident since the Fujimori government fell last November following the airing of a video showing Montesinos bribing a newly elected congressman to switch parties (see NotiSur, 2000-09-22, 2000- 10-06, 2000-12-08). Fujimori fled to Japan and Montesinos was in hiding until his capture in Venezuela June 24.

Montesinos still trying to buy a deal

Montesinos is charged in 67 cases ranging from bribery and corruption of public officials to money laundering, illicit enrichment, and directing a death squad. Another 94 cases are under investigation.

In a decade as the power behind Fujimori's presidency, Montesinos assembled a vast corruption network, buying off or extorting judges, military officers, business owners, politicians, and media magnates. Trying him, however, will not be easy. In his first court appearance, just hours after his return to Lima, he reportedly said that he had 30,000 additional incriminating videos, including some of judges and magistrates.

With the veiled threat, "he is already setting up an internal front within the judicial system in an attempt to destabilize it," criminal law expert Luis Lamas said. "Montesinos will use this very intelligently, because he has information and undoubtedly knows there are many magistrates who have been involved in corruption and have not been sanctioned. He will wage a psychosocial war to gain a more advantageous position."

In his first court statements, Montesinos also seemed to be shifting blame to Fujimori, saying he was only an adviser acting under the president's orders.

A "collaboration law" allows suspects in the corruption investigation to testify in exchange for the reduction or elimination of penalties. The deal does not apply to ringleaders, however. Lamas said Montesinos may be trying to establish that he was not a leader to reduce the charges against him and his family members.

Under a severe law engineered by Montesinos and Fujimori in 1995, some of the charges against Montesinos--such as homicide, genocide or torture, drug trafficking, and money laundering--could carry a life sentence. Lesser charges carry a maximum sentence of 12 to 15 years, with early release a possibility.

Montesinos' arrest increased calls for Fujimori's extradition

The former adviser's return to Peru fueled calls for Japan to send Fujimori home. On June 27, Peru's ambassador to Japan was recalled for consultation, but no extradition request has yet been made. …

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