Berenson Lawyers Ask For Acquittal

Associated Press -- 8 June 2001

by Rick Vecchio

LIMA, Peru - Lori Berenson, the New York native accused of collaborating with leftist guerrillas, should be acquitted because Peru's spy chief manipulated her case, the defense said in closing arguments Friday.

Attorney Jose Luis Sandoval said Berenson, 31, has been used as a political tool from the time of her arrest in November 1995.

Convicted by hooded military judges to life in prison in 1996 for treason, Berenson won a civilian retrial in August on lesser charges of ``terrorist collaboration.'' The trial is now in its fourth month with a verdict expected in the next two weeks.

Sandoval said the entire case, including the decision for a retrial, was choreographed by Peru's spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos, who fled the country last year.

``Montesinos manipulated this case personally,'' the lawyer said.

Sandoval said videos secretly taped by Montesinos showed the former intelligence chief discussed how Berenson's case should be handled.

In a January 1998 video, Montesinos said Berenson's treason conviction should be overturned and sent to civilian court for retrial to appease U.S. officials and avert international criticism that she was denied due process, Sandoval said.

``This shows the political context in which my client's case was overturned and how the political criteria of the regime was to utilize her in an opportune moment to seek support from the United States,'' Sandoval said.

Berenson, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student, is accused of helping Peru's Tupac Amaru rebels plan a thwarted takeover of Congress.

Police say the group wanted to take lawmakers hostage and exchange them for imprisoned rebels but the plan was thwarted by Berenson's arrest and a raid on a rebel safe house that she admits she rented.

Berenson denies the charges and maintains she did not know her housemates were rebels.

Prosecutors are seeking a 20-year sentence.

Mario Cavagnaro, the Interior Ministry's ``anti-terrorism'' advocate, asked the court Friday to impose a fine equivalent to $5.5 million on Berenson, and to expel her after she finishes whatever prison term the court deems appropriate.

Berenson, seated across from Cavagnaro and wearing a black and gray turtleneck sweater, jotted notes, shook her head and at times smiled throughout his statement.

The trial was adjourned until Monday, when Sandoval is scheduled to complete his closing remarks.