Peru Court Won't Remove Judge

Associated Press -- 4 May 2001

by Craig Mauro

LIMA, Peru - Judges overseeing a New York woman's trial on terrorism charges on Friday refused to remove the presiding judge for alleged links to Peru's fugitive former spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos.

The three-judge panel said Lori Berenson's attorney should have made his motion within the first three days of the trial, which started six weeks ago.

Following the ruling, Judge Marcos Ibazeta angrily defended himself against suggestions he was a pawn of Montesinos. The defense on Wednesday cited a videotape secretly recorded by Montesinos, in which he referred to Ibazeta as a member of his ``team.''

Ibazeta read from another video transcript in which Montesinos described him as an ``enemy.'' Montesinos complained ``about the independence I've always tried to maintain,'' Ibazeta said in his own defense.

Berenson, 31, is facing trial in a civilian court for allegedly plotting with leftist guerrillas to raid Peru's Congress and exchange hostages for imprisoned rebels.

A secret military court sentenced her to life in prison in 1996 for masterminding the thwarted Congress takeover. But the conviction was overturned last year, leading to the current trial on ``terrorist collaboration'' charges.

The prosecution is seeking a 20-year prison sentence.

Montesinos fled the country in October, leaving behind hundreds of secretly filmed videos that show him conspiring with officials and businessmen.

Berenson supporters have argued that Montesinos and Fujimori concocted the charges against her to make themselves look tough on terrorism.

Defense attorney Jose Sandoval had filed the motion to remove Ibazeta based on the video and two newspaper reports that he said demonstrated the judge's bias against Berenson.

He said the articles from July 1999 quote the judge as criticizing possible appeals for retrials of Berenson and several guerrilla leaders. He said Ibazeta called the idea ``irrational.''

Ibazeta did not address the allegation of bias.

Sandoval said that he filed an appeal and that the Supreme Court should make a ruling within 15 days. In the meantime, Berenson's trial will resume on Monday.