Peruvian Court Sees Berenson Verdict on June 19

Reuters -- 1 June 2001

LIMA, Peru - A Peruvian court conducting a civilian retrial of jailed American Lori Berenson on terrorism charges expects to hand down its sentence on June 19, a court official said on Friday.

``Next Tuesday, we will hear the last written evidence and the prosecution will make its summing up,'' Javier Llaque, an official with the special anti-terrorism court conducting the New Yorker's retrial, told Reuters.

``On Wednesday, we expect the summing up of the state attorney and on Thursday, the defense,'' he added. The three-judge panel then retires to consider the case. Peru has no jury system.

``The court is expected to hear Lori Berenson on June 18 and to hand down its verdict on June 19,'' Llaque added.

Berenson, 31, faces charges of collaborating with the leftist rebel Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), best known for a 126-day siege in Lima in 1996-97.

Prosecutors are asking for a 20-year term. Berenson denies all charges against her and says the case is based on mostly flimsy, circumstantial evidence.

Prosecutors allege that Berenson, who worked with leftist rebels in Central America before coming to Peru in 1994, posed as a journalist and aided the MRTA in plotting an attack on Congress which never took place.

Berenson says she shares some of the MRTA's ideological positions but denies charges that she knew the people she shared a house with in Lima were MRTA leaders.

She herself was convicted as an MRTA leader and sentenced to life in jail in 1996 by a hooded military judge in a trial condemned by rights groups as a travesty of justice.

But her conviction was overturned last year and she was granted a retrial, which began on March 20.

Llaque said Peru's supreme court had also ruled on Friday that court president Marcos Ibazeta could stay on the case. Berenson's lawyer tried to have him removed, alleging bias and links to the fugitive former spy chief who sparked a corruption storm that felled ex-President Alberto Fujimori last year.