Berenson Lawyer Wants Judge Removed

Associated Press -- 2 May 2001

by Craig Mauro

LIMA, Peru - Lawyers for an American being tried on terrorism charges asked the presiding judge to remove himself from the case Wednesday, charging he is biased and linked to Peru's fugitive ex-spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos.

Attorney Jose Sandoval submitted the transcript of a secretly filmed videotape, which had earlier been shown to Congress, that shows Montesinos referring to judge Marcos Ibazeta as a member of ``the team.''

Supporters for Lori Berenson, a New York native, maintain the charges against her were concocted by Montesinos and ex-President Alberto Fujimori to show they were tough on terrorism.

Sandoval also argued that two 1999 newspaper reports demonstrated Ibazeta's bias against Berenson. He said the articles from July 1999 quote the judge criticizing possible appeals for retrials of Berenson and several guerrilla leaders, calling the idea ``irrational.''

Berenson was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 by a military court for allegedly plotting with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement to take over Peru's Congress and exchange hostages for imprisoned rebels. Her conviction was overturned last year, leading to the current civilian trial on lesser charges of ``terrorist collaboration.''

Ibazeta calmly listened to the allegations without responding and suspended the trial until Friday, when the court is expected to rule on the motion to remove the judge.

The two judges overseeing the trial with Ibazeta will rule with a third judge whether the magistrate should step down. If Ibazeta is removed, the trial, which started six weeks ago, would have to start over, Sandoval said.

Montesinos fled the country in October, leaving behind hundreds of secretly filmed videos that show him conspiring with officials and businessmen. Ibazeta has not appeared in any of the videos, which were shown to Congress and then the transcripts released to the public.

In a video dated May 5, 1998, Montesinos is shown forcing the head of a government judiciary oversight commission to resign. But Montesinos assured the official that ``the team will continue being the same'' and referred to Ibazeta as ``someone who supports me.''

Sandoval said the video ``puts into question the judicial independence'' of Ibazeta.