Peru Reinstates Judges; Fresh Blow for Absent Fujimori

Reuters -- 17 November 2000

by Jude Webber

LIMA - Peru's Congress on Friday reinstated three constitutional court judges fired in 1997 for defying President Alberto Fujimori, dealing another blow to the embattled leader's unraveling grip on power while on a trip to Asia.

Congress, headed by the opposition for the first time since Fujimori clamped an iron grip on the country with his 1992 ''self-coup,'' approved the measure shortly after midnight.

Judges Delia Revoredo, Guillermo Rey and Manuel Aguirre were sacked after they questioned the legality of Fujimori running for a third successive term in office in 2000.

The measure was included on the parliamentary agenda by Valentin Paniagua in his first act as Congress President. Its approval was a blow to Fujimori, who has been heavily criticized for flying off to Brunei to attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (news - web sites) forum, while the worst political storm of his decade in office escalated at home.

The confusion surrounding Fujimori's travel plans fueled a string of rumors that the president was seeking political asylum in Malaysia or Japan, his parents' homeland.

Officials in Japan, where Peru was drumming up financial aid, either gave no information or conflicting reports.

Peru's ambassador to Panama said Fujimori had canceled plans to attend a regional summit in Panama and is not expected home until Sunday.

With Fujimori away, Paniagua was elected on Thursday pledging a ``new era'' in a Congress that for eight years has been a compliant chamber, rubber stamping presidential plans.

Fujimori's Grip On Power Weakening

But a nine-week political scandal, sparked by corruption allegations involving his fugitive ex-spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, has seriously weakened Fujimori's grip on power.

Even though he has promised to quit next July, four years early, the pace of recent events has led some of Fujimori's ministers to say his chances of staying until then are narrowing.

Fujimori has called elections in April but will not run.

Over the past few weeks he has led a fruitless manhunt for Montesinos as money laundering and murder investigations of his former right-hand man multiplied.

State attorney Jose Ugaz, who is leading investigations into the former spy chief that could include the president himself, told reporters Montesinos led a ``criminal organization in public institutions.''

``It is clear Montesinos could not have acted alone,'' he said. Ugaz is already investigating millionaire bank accounts linked to Montesinos in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, the United States, Panama, Uruguay and Luxembourg.

In another headache for the president, local media reported that courts have ordered Fujimori to give evidence on Nov. 28 over an arms trafficking case with Colombian rebels allegedly involving Montesinos.

With the opposition now in charge of Congress, Fujimori is even more vulnerable, since legislators could use their new dominance to seek to oust him on the grounds of moral unfitness to rule.

The media has openly discussed the prospect, although there is no sign yet the opposition is seriously considering it.

Opposition leaders and the media hailed the reinstatement of the three judges as a triumph and a big step forward toward restoring the independence of Peru's tainted institutions.

``Historic day for democracy.'' trumpeted opposition daily La Republica.