Peru Bishops to Get Custody of 'Intimate' Spy Tapes

Reuters -- 21 February 2001

by Alistair Scrutton

LIMA, Peru - Peru's Roman Catholic Church said on Tuesday it would take temporary custody of dozens of ``intimate'' videos secretly taped by the country's ex-spy chief and reportedly used to blackmail top military brass.

Courts investigating cash-for-favors and political dirty deals between Vladimiro Montesinos and Peru's establishment in over 700 videos will hand over to the bishops tapes that are considered personal and outside the scope of criminal probes.

``The videos are of an intimate nature. We have no more details,'' a spokeswoman for the Bishops' Conference, a body that groups Peru's bishops, said. The tapes will be later given to the people seen in the videos -- if they want them.

Political analysts said that the mediation role being played by the church -- widely trusted in this deeply Catholic nation -- aimed to ensure that privacy rights were respected and that the videos would not be used for further extortion efforts.

El Correo newspaper reported on Tuesday that the videos included tapes of orgies between top military bosses and prostitutes at a well-known brothel in Lima where Montesinos' spy services had installed hidden cameras.

Sergio Salas, the head magistrate of Lima's superior court, whose judges are reviewing the videos, told Reuters, ``They are social videos, parties where everything happened, liquor was drunk, and then behavior became uninhibited.'' Asked if the videos contained sex scenes, he said, ``Not necessarily.''

Local media have speculated for months about the existence of ``sex'' videos. In the late 1990s, the same Lima brothel was at the center of a scandal after the magazine Caretas reported that spy services had secretly filmed the brothel's clients.

The so-called ``Vladivideos'' have shocked Peru by revealing secret political and business links between Montesinos -- former President Alberto Fujimori (news - web sites)'s closest aide for 10 years -- and judges, politicians, bankers and generals.

Montesinos' videos are considered by government lawyers and media commentators as a key part of an alleged extortion scheme by Montesinos to control the country's judges, generals and journalists.

Montesinos -- believed to have fled the country and undergone plastic surgery in Venezuela -- sparked the downfall of Fujimori, who was ousted by Congress last November as ''morally unfit'' to govern after the corruption scandals mounted.

The former spy master fled Peru last September after a video apparently showing him bribing a lawmaker was leaked to the media. He left behind him hundreds of videos that were confiscated by police at his home and offices.

Peruvians Riveted By Videos

Almost daily broadcasts of the videos to a Peruvian public riveted by the revelations have led to corruption charges being brought against scores of businessman and lawmakers.

News that certain videos would not be made public was criticized by some lawmakers who said any video showing links to Montesinos, wanted on charges ranging from running death squads to money laundering, should be broadcast.

``We know that there are videos going to the bishops. With what reason -- political interests?'' asked Fujimori loyalist and lawmaker Martha Chavez.

Expreso newspaper said Lima Archbishop Juan Luis Cipriani -- in Rome to be formally named as a cardinal on Wednesday -- agreed with the deal for the Bishops' Conference to take the videos. Cipriani belongs to the Bishops' Conference but does not head the group.

Cipriani -- widely seen as a friend of Fujimori and accused by rights groups of turning a blind eye to evidence of government wrongdoing -- was himself victim of a video leaked to the media earlier this year.

That video -- not linked to Montesinos -- showed Cipriani using swear words while speaking at a military ceremony.