Peru ex-spy chief Montesinos convicted of first of 70 criminal charges
Associated Press -- 1 July 2002
by Craig Mauro
LIMA, Peru - Vladimiro Montesinos, once considered one of Peru's most feared men, was convicted Monday of usurping office -- the first of more than 70 criminal charges, from arms smuggling to homicide, that the ex-spymaster faces.
Montesinos, accused of orchestrating a vast network of corruption during former President Alberto Fujimori's rule, was sentenced to nine years in prison for seizing control of the National Intelligence Service while serving as an adviser to the agency.
The charge is just the first of dozens Montesinos faces and comes 19 months after a bribery scandal involving the former spy chief triggered the collapse of Fujimori's decade-long authoritarian rule.
Judge Saul Pena fined Montesinos, 57, the equivalent of dlrs 2.8 million along with a prison term of nine years and four months -- a stiff sentence for a minor charge. Prosecutors had requested only a seven-year sentence.
Montesinos, wearing a black Windbreaker and dark slacks, reacted coolly as a court secretary read the verdict in a makeshift courtroom at a naval base outside Lima where he is being held in a maximum-security prison.
When asked if he had anything to say, Montesinos said quietly that he would exercise his right to appeal.
Under Peruvian law, minor charges like usurpation of office are prosecuted in expedited trials without public hearings. A judge rules based on closed-door testimony and evidence gathered.
Judicial authorities hope later this year to begin a series of public trials that will cover the dozens of other accusations against Montesinos, Pena said last week.
Most of the charges are for corruption. A handful are for drug trafficking, arms smuggling and homicide, including accusations that Montesinos directed a paramilitary death squad.
Pena said the six anti-corruption judges who are handling the other cases involving Montesinos have not yet decided how to proceed with the trials, which are considered the most complicated in the history of Peru's courts.
The spymaster has cooperated with authorities on cases involving corruption but not on ones that carry a life sentence, such as drug trafficking and human rights abuses, said Richard Rondon, a prosecutor who is investigating Montesinos.
The maximum prison sentence for corruption is 12 years. Multiple sentences would be served concurrently rather than accumulate. The one year Montesinos has already served in jail will count toward his sentence.
Montesinos' lawyer, Estela Valdivia, told reporters after the hearing that the ruling was unjust because it did not recognize that Montesinos used his power to defeat Peru's guerrilla movements and bring peace to a country bloodied by years of leftist insurgency.
Justice Minister Fernando Olivera said Montesinos got what he deserved.
"A criminal of the stature of Montesinos deserves the greatest sentence for violating the law," he said.
Montesinos was de facto head of Peru's intelligence service and top security adviser to Fujimori. He was considered the architect of Fujimori's successful counterinsurgency campaign, which included draconian anti-terrorism laws.
In September 2000, a leaked videotape showed Montesinos bribing a congressman to switch to the government party.
Fujimori, who months earlier won a third consecutive term in tainted elections, could not hold onto power amid the ensuing scandal. He fled to his parents' native Japan, where he resigned in November 2000.
Montesinos fled Peru, eluding authorities for eight months until he was captured June 23, 2001, while hiding out in Venezuela.
Since Fujimori's fall, prosecutors have unraveled what they say is a network of corruption run by Montesinos. Dozens of government officials, congressmen, judges, military officers, journalists and businessmen have been implicated.
Fujimori, who has remained in Japan, is accused of abandonment of office, embezzlement and homicide for allegedly sanctioning two massacres by the death squad.