Peru Court Rules Judge Can Stay on Berenson Case

Reuters -- 4 May 2001

by Daniel Flynn

LIMA, Peru - A Peruvian court retrying jailed American Lori Berenson on terrorist charges threw out on Friday a defense motion to have its presiding judge removed on grounds of bias and links to Peru's corrupt ex-spy chief.

The defense alleged that in a 1999 newspaper interview, court president Marcos Ibazeta had opposed a retrial for Berenson, sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996 as a leader of the leftist Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) rebels.

By a 2-1 vote, the judges' panel, including Ibazeta, ruled the motion was technically inadmissible as it was based on information available before the trial began in March. They did not rule on whether Ibazeta had shown bias.

Ibazeta, who is running for Peru's human rights ombudsman and has faced accusations of links to the Andean nation's fugitive spy chief, voted for considering the motion.

Defense lawyer Jose Sandoval said he would appeal to Peru's Supreme Court, which would have two weeks to make a ruling.

``This should have been handled differently ... Ibazeta should not be on a tribunal when there are doubts about him,'' he told reporters outside the courtroom in a Lima jail.

Sandoval has said he delayed presenting his appeal against the judge while he verified his information.

Last year, Peru overturned Berenson's conviction by a hooded military judge, saying new evidence suggested she had links with the MRTA but was not a rebel leader. Human rights groups slammed the original trial as a parody of justice.

The New Yorker, who faces a possible 20-year sentence, denies all charges in the trial whose verdict is expected May 21-25. She says her conviction was an example of human rights abuses under hard-line ex-President Alberto Fujimori.

Berenson, 31, has won sympathy in the United States, but she has little support in Peru where rebel violence -- now greatly reduced -- has killed about 30,000 people.

Berenson's lawyer and family have alleged repeated violations of due process in her retrial.

Ibazeta denied links to ex-spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos, who allegedly used bribes to control Peru's courts.

Countering Sandoval's allegations that a transcript of a conversation revealed Montesinos' trust in him, Ibazeta quoted another recorded excerpt in which he said the ex-intelligence chief described him as part of ``a group of enemies.''