Videos Show Corrupt Fujimori Government

Associated Press -- 19 February 2001

by Rick Vecchio

LIMA, Peru - Covert videotapes starring Peru's fugitive ex-spy chief seem to show clearly how he spent years paving the way for former President Alberto Fujimori's tainted re-election to a third term with persuasion, political subversion and graft.

Now Peru's Congress and judiciary are trying to find a way to hold Fujimori accountable, even though he remains beyond their reach in self-imposed exile in Japan, his ancestral homeland.

A succession of so-called Vladi-videos, secretly recorded by intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos, have laid bare the shady power-structure behind Fujimori's 10-year rule that for years Peruvians suspected but could not prove.

The images broadcast almost daily from the floor of Congress document a parade of government ministers, legislators and judges paying homage to Montesinos as he plotted to remove all legal and political obstacles to Fujimori's continued reign in office.

Fujimori was declared morally unfit for office in November after he fled to Tokyo amid mounting corruption scandals surrounding Montesinos, who remains a fugitive.

But so far, no video has emerged showing Fujimori in the room as Montesinos, or one of his emissaries, hands over the now-familiar envelope stuffed with cash.

Congress plans to vote, possibly next week, on whether to lift Fujimori's constitutional immunity from prosecution, which he holds as an ex-president, and charge him with dereliction of duty and abandonment of office.

The measure would pave the way to bar the 62-year-old Fujimori from returning to Peruvian politics for 10 years. His few remaining congressional supporters are crying ``political vengeance.'' He tried to fax his resignation from abroad, and it was ignored, they argue.

If the vote goes through, Fujimori could face criminal prosecution and up to two years in prison, said Congressman Daniel Estrada.

But even if Fujimori's constitutional protection is lifted, Peru and Japan have no extradition treaty. The son of Japanese immigrants, Fujimori is now recognized by Japan as one of its citizens and there is no sign Tokyo will cooperate in his forced return.

Dereliction of duty is hardly the smoking gun needed to make Japan change its mind, interim Prime Minister Javier Perez de Cuellar said this week. He said Peru will need ``hard proof'' - as yet not established - of Fujimori's direct involvement in acts of corruption.

Proof or not, the former U.N. secretary-general freely refers to the former president as ``the fugitive Fujimori.''

Fujimori won an unprecedented, and constitutionally questionable, third five-year term last year in an election marred by irregularities and ``fraudulent behavior'' - to quote Eduardo Stein, chief of the observer's mission from the Organization of American States.

For nearly a year, Stein felt constrained to apply the word ``fraud,'' a legally precise, and very undiplomatic, term. That was before the Montesinos videos came to light.

The objective, Montesinos explained in one 1998 tape, was to keep Fujimori in power until 2005. The method, he said, was to maintain control of the Supreme Court, the National Council of Magistrates and a pliant attorney general who, he noted, ``plays along with the government every day.''

His audience: an obedient group of once-ruling bloc congressmen seated around a conference table in his intelligence service headquarters, hanging on his every word.

In another 1998 video, former National Election Board member Romulo Munoz asks Montesinos: ``You're not filming me?''

``For ethical reasons, we don't utilize those things,'' replied Montesinos, after handing Munoz $10,000 and first-class airline tickets to New York for his daughter to study in the United States. Montesinos also pledges $30,000 more over six months and says he'll see about arranging state jobs for Munoz's wife and son.

Montesinos is believed to have slipped out of the country in October. He faces charges like extortion, illicit enrichment, smuggling arms through Peru's military to Colombian guerrillas and fomenting deadly riots during protests against Fujimori's inauguration last year to discredit the political opposition.

Fujimori has denied any criminal involvement in the alleged empire of wrongdoing that his security chief is believed to have operated behind the veil of Fujimori's dictatorial regime.

Congress and prosecutors who work for a new attorney general are investigating Fujimori for a myriad of accusations, including embezzlement in connection with missing money paid by the United Nations (news - web sites) to rent a Peruvian helicopter. There is also an ongoing probe of hundreds of millions of dollars allegedly signed over by secret presidential decree for dubious military spending.

He also faces possible obstruction of justice charges for allegedly ordering an illegal police raid on Montesinos' apartment, seizing some 700 videos from Montesinos' personal collection.

Congressional investigators believe Fujimori removed incriminating videos before turning the tapes over to judicial authorities.