Montesinos Case Poses Challenges
Benson, Drew, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Byline: Drew Benson
LIMA, Peru - He's no Mona Lisa, but the smile borne by Peru's recently captured ex-spy boss Vladimiro Montesinos has people talking.
Is he arrogantly displaying contempt and the confidence that he remains untouchable and in control, or is it the nervous tic of a once-all-powerful criminal mind on his final, crashing downward spiral?
The enigmatic grin on Mr. Montesinos' wan face during his first days back in Peru mirrors the unease that has replaced the initial euphoria over his June 25 return.
Local newspapers hailed his arrest in Venezuela as the "Capture of the Century."
It ended an eight-month search for the man who controlled Peru through a vast network of bribery and payoffs - the exposure of which led to ouster of President Alberto Fujimori in November.
How to jail Mr. Montesinos, how to try him and how to investigate his decade-long web of fear and influence that touched virtually all facets of Peruvian society now presents a heady challenge for Peru's interim and incoming governments.
Peru's caretaker president, Valentin Paniagua, says that Mr. Montesinos will treated like any other criminal and will get no special deals in his trial and handling.
But with 52 cases open and 140 investigations involving more than 500 individuals, Mr. Montesinos is far from a typical criminal suspect.
Peruvian investigators have charged Mr. Montesinos with drug trafficking - including a rifles-for-drugs swap with Colombian rebels - skimming off of overpriced government arms purchases and organizing death squads.
He is believed to have amassed some $264 million and squirreled it away in banks worldwide in a slush fund that he used to bribe politicians, judges, military officers, businessmen and media owners.
Although many Peruvians for years suspected Mr. Montesinos' involvement in all things bad in Peru, the hundreds of videos he left behind last year served as a national slap in the face.
Each day a new one appears on the air, compromising some of Peru's best known personalities.
"This is a very complex problem in Peru, not only for the quantity of people involved but also . . . that this organization had the particularity to develop its activities within the public structure of the Peruvian state," Peruvian penal lawyer Luis Lamas Puccio said.
For Mr. Lamas, the problem in bringing Mr. Montesinos to trial is the immensity of the biggest criminal case in Peru's history.
"The central and most important question is - is it possible to bring all of the charges together in one trial?" Mr. Lamas said.
In addition, Mr. Lamas said, the ex-spy chief may try to confound investigations against him by surfacing some of the 30,000 still-hidden videos he claims to have.
But many see Mr. Montesinos losing what is more a political than a judicial procedure. He is the trophy of the interim government and, according to political columnist Mirko Lauer, will be of use to the incoming government of Alejandro Toledo, who takes office July 28.
"The government of Toledo is going to use their `Hannibal Lector' to distract from the economic and social problems that still exist in Peru," Mr. Lauer said, referring the villain in "Silence of the Lambs."
Mr. Montesinos' capture came as a surprise to many given his web of connections and his buying power.
But now jailed, his powerful knowledge may continue to work in his favor, Mr. Lamas said.
Investigators say Mr. Montesinos isolated different spans of his corrupt web.
Now, as the case against him unfolds, he presumably knows when to expose whom and at the most effective moment.
"His best card is not to try to do these type of things," Mr. Lauer said. "If he really shows that he is still so dangerous and all-powerful, they will simply kill him."