Peru's Judicial System Questioned

Associated Press -- 27 October 2000

by Rick Vecchio

LIMA, Peru - Vladimiro Montesinos may be Peru's most wanted man, but he hasn't even been formally charged with a crime.

Human rights groups and opposition politicians have accused the former intelligence chief of everything from torture and death squad killings to arms dealing. In a much-televised chase that has riveted Peruvians, President Alberto Fujimori has pledged to bring him in.

But no arrest warrant has been issued, and many are questioning whether Peru's judicial system - widely viewed as being controlled by Montesinos - is up to the job of prosecuting the feared spymaster.

Opposition lawmakers demanded Thursday that Attorney General Blanca Nelida Colan - a Montesinos loyalist - investigate allegations that he amassed a personal fortune worth millions through corruption.

They also accused him of masterminding an illegal arms pipeline that funneled thousands of weapons purchased in Jordan two years ago to leftist Colombian guerrillas.

Separately, Peru's National Human Rights Coordinating Office has filed a criminal complaint saying Montesinos, as de facto head of Peru's government and military intelligence services, was responsible for a decade of torture and killing.

``Even though ... he wasn't necessarily present for each and every act, or didn't directly employ violence over the victims, he had control of the situation,'' the group's director, Sofia Macher, said in the complaint.

Montesinos, once the president's top adviser, fled for Panama in September after the release of a videotape that showed him apparently bribing an opposition congressman to join Fujimori's party. He returned Monday, plunging Peru into turmoil.

The video's release forced Fujimori to announce that he would step down in July, after new elections in which he would not be a candidate.

The investigation of the bribery case was reopened this week. One prosecutor who reportedly wanted to order Montesinos' arrest was taken off the case last month, before the spy chief left for Panama.

Legal experts say Colan has a history of maneuvering pliant prosecutors into place to shelve any investigation that might threaten the spy chief.

``Colan and the Public Ministry are effectively controlled by Montesinos,'' said Martin Belaunde, president of Peru's bar association.

For lawmakers seeking a thorough probe of the corruption and arms dealing allegations, it is a discouraging record.

``Colan does not get our vote of confidence, but this time we are demanding that she conduct a real investigation,'' said opposition Congresswoman Anel Townsend.

In 1996, Colan ignored court testimony from a high-profile narcotics trafficker who said he had paid Montesinos $50,000 a month for uninterrupted use of a jungle air strip.

This week, Colan pushed aside a prosecutor who had been in line to investigate the human rights group's allegation that Montesinos was behind a bevy of torture cases, death squad killings and the 1997 murder and dismemberment of an army intelligence service agent.

The case was reassigned to a prosecutor who quashed an investigation of phone-tapping by Montesinos' intelligence apparatus targeting opposition politicians and journalists three years ago.

Colan did not return phone calls Friday seeking comment.

Also in 1997, Leonor La Rosa, a former military intelligence agent, was left paraplegic as a result of torture inflicted by superior officers who suspected her of leaking information to journalists.

Montesinos ``controlled the entire intelligence system in the armed forces and had an office installed in the army's general headquarters, where he spent most of his time,'' La Rosa was quoted as saying in Friday's El Comercio, Peru's leading newspaper.

Four army intelligence officers were convicted to eight-year sentences for La Rosa's torture, but two of them were later released by Peru's Supreme Military Court.

In a radio interview from a secret location Tuesday, Montesinos denied any involvement in several of the human rights cases.