Maneuvering by Peru's ex-spy master delays a trial verdict

Miami Herald -- 11 May 2002

by Lucien O. Chauvin

LIMA - Peruvians will have to wait a few more weeks to hear the verdict in a court case involving the country's most celebrated prisoner, Vladimiro Montesinos.

The Justice Ministry suspended the court session on Friday after Montesinos filed a request to have Judge Saúl Peña Farfán removed from the case. An earlier session on April 25 was suspended after Montesinos announced that he was changing lawyers.

Dozens of cases

Montesinos faces 72 separate cases for alleged crimes committed during his 10 years as de facto national security advisor in the government of Alberto Fujimori, who was president from 1990 to 2000. In the current case, Montesinos is accused of illegally assuming the functions of national security advisor, a post to which he was never formally appointed by Fujimori. The maximum sentence Montesinos can receive if found guilty is seven years.

Justice officials say that by changing lawyers and requesting a new judge on the case, Montesinos is trying to prolong the process and keep off the docket more serious cases involving accusations of drug trafficking and organizing death squads, crimes that carry life sentences.

Special prosecutor Luis Vargas Valdivia says Montesinos is using legal mechanisms to keep the verdicts from being read because he wants to avoid any sentences from being handed down against him.

''He is using a strategy to disrupt the cases so he can later claim that due process was not followed in his trials. The long-term plan is to request release for procedural mistakes and try to take his case to tribunals outside Peru,'' Vargas says.

Failure foreseen

Vargas, chief investigator on the Montesinos cases since January, says that if Montesinos tries to take his case to the Inter-American Court in Costa Rica, a branch of the Organization of American States, the plan will not work.

''The problems in the cases are not coming from the justice system but from his maneuvering. No tribunal outside of Peru is going to buy his arguments,'' Vargas says.

Judge Peña says Montesinos' request to have him removed from the case is part of a series of smear tactics designed to discredit the six anti-corruption judges named specifically to hear cases against Montesinos and codefendants.

''There is a systematic campaign under way by the people involved in the corruption network to disrupt our work,'' he says.

Montesinos' request against Peña stems from a trip the judge made to Switzerland to investigate a $22 million bank account belonging to Montesinos. Peña is accused of violating legal procedure by making the trip.

The judge denies the charges, arguing that he went to Switzerland on a separate case that has nothing to do with the charges of illegally assuming government functions.

New date to be set

A decision on Montesinos' request will be made within the next two weeks and a new date set for the verdict to be read.

Peña has already been removed from a separate case involving Montesinos' daughter, Silvana, who is also jailed on corruption charges.

Montesinos, the power behind the Fujimori administration throughout the 1990s, successfully avoided corruption charges until September 2000, when a videotape was made public showing him offering an opposition congressman $14,000 to switch parties and join the Fujimori bloc. The video set off a chain reaction that led to Fujimori's resignation two months later. Fujimori has been living in self-imposed exile in Japan since November 2000.

More than 2,000 other videos secretly taped by Montesinos have surfaced so far. On many he is seen offering huge sums of money to judges, business people, congressmen and generals.

Nearly 100 people are behind bars for their dealings with Montesinos and hundreds more are under investigation.