Peru Ex-Spy Chief Hires Lawyer

Associated Press -- 11 December 2000

by Rick Vecchio

LIMA, Peru - Fugitive ex-spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos has hired a lawyer in Switzerland to try to block Peru's attempts to investigate at least $70 million of suspected profits from alleged arms dealing, the government's investigator said Monday.

Special state's attorney Jose Ugaz said he met last week in Switzerland with Zurich District Attorney Cornelia Cova, who told him ``Montesinos had already hired a Swiss attorney'' who had begun legal action.

The lawyer is ``surely going to file appeals'' to Peru's various requests to review the sources and destinations of money that flowed through ''17 frozen accounts linked to Montesinos or his inner circle,'' Ugaz told Panamericana Television.

Zurich public prosecutor Dieter Jann said Monday that a request had been received to unfreeze the accounts, but not from Montesinos himself. Jann did not identify who made the legal application, but said it had no hope of success.

Peruvian investigators believe Montesinos amassed a fortune from arms dealing, drug trafficking and influence peddling.

Montesinos lost power after being shown in a video in September apparently bribing a congressman. The scandal forced President Alberto Fujimori (news - web sites) from power after 10 years of authoritarian rule, and he fled to Japan. After a failed asylum bid in Panama, Montesinos and has been in hiding since returning to Peru in October.

Swiss authorities announced Nov. 3 they had frozen more than $48 million in accounts linked to Montesinos on suspicion of money laundering.

Cova said two weeks ago that much of the money came from payments of commissions on arms deals between Peru and Russia, and that $22 million more had been discovered and frozen in accounts that flowed from the same source in the arms transactions.

Russia's government has denied it was involved in any improper arms deals.

Newspaper and television reports have charged that Montesinos and his allies in the military collected kickbacks from purchases of old Soviet-made MIGs and Sukhoi-25 jet fighters, as well as other armaments, from black market vendors from Belarus, Ukraine, and Bulgaria.

The purchases were reportedly brokered by companies set up by Montesinos' associates, who collected multimillion dollar commissions far exceeding those that would have been paid if the armaments had been purchased legitimately in state-to-state deals between Peru and Russia.

Montesinos' wife, Trinidad Becerra, has been tied to Swiss bank accounts holding $17 million and was placed under house arrest last week.

Investigators also were pursuing accounts with at least $10 million more reportedly held by Montesinos or his family members in New York, Uruguay and the Cayman Islands, as well as several in Lima.