Monday, June 09, 2008

Acquittals for Lawmakers Accused of Taking Bribes in Peru

By Ángel Páez LIMA, Jun 9 (IPS) - A court in Peru acquitted nine former lawmakers accused of taking bribes to switch party allegiance and vote with the government of former President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), so as to assure him majority support for his initiatives. Vladimiro Montesinos, Fujimori’s former intelligence chief, who like the ex-president is also in prison, had confessed in court to personally making payments to 13 opposition legislators in the year 2000, with funds from the National Intelligence Service (SIN), and provided details of how he had recruited each of the lawmakers. But the High Court in Lima found that his testimony was insufficient to prove the charges in nine cases, for which verdicts of acquittal were handed down on Jun. 3. In the 2000 elections, only 52 legislators belonging to Fujimori’s Peru 2000 party were elected, while at least 70 were needed to control the legislature. According to Montesinos, Fujimori ordered him to recruit lawmakers at any price to obtain a majority. The adviser said he paid 13 and offered various favours to five others. The Court convicted and handed down four-year suspended sentences to former legislators Roger Cáceres, Waldo Ríos, Gregorio Ticona and Antonio Palomo. Lead prosecutor Avelino Guillén told IPS that "the Court has ruled that Montesinos’ testimony is not enough to convict the turncoat members of Congress, yet it did convict four others based on his testimony." "If Montesinos’ evidence was enough to convict these four, why wasn’t it for the others? There’s a contradiction here," said Guillén, who is also prosecuting Fujimori in a separate trial for human rights violations. "If the Court accepts that Montesinos carried out a recruitment operation in order to gain a majority, would four legislators have been enough? The operation was to recruit 18," he said. The prosecution filed a motion to annul, and now the case will go to the Supreme Court, which will take the final decision. "He (Fujimori) gave me the order to get a parliamentary majority for Peru 2000 at any price, so that he could be sworn in as president on Jul. 28, 2001," Montesinos testified. He also wanted "absolute control of the presidency of Congress and its administrative committee, as well as control of all the congressional committees," he added. "At President Fujimori’s express request, I carried out the operation codenamed ‘Recruitment’ which achieved a solid parliamentary majority for the Fujimorista bloc," he said. The scandal contributed to the downfall of the Fujimori regime, shortly after the president was reelected to a third term. On Sept. 14, 2000, a group of opposition lawmakers released a video showing Montesinos handing over 15,000 dollars to congressman Alberto Kouri in exchange for switching sides. Kouri was convicted and sentenced in an earlier trial. Montesinos even got the members of Congress to sign documents promising to vote with the Fujimori government. "I am utterly disappointed in the Court verdict, and my disappointment is shared by everyone in this country," lawmaker David Waisman, who chaired a special commission investigating the bribery cases from 2001 to 2006, told IPS. During the investigations, "in their own statements, they all admitted to a series of serious irregularities amounting to criminal offences. We obtained their confessions, and yet they were acquitted. Actions like this are the reason why polls indicate that the Peruvian people disapprove of the justice system," Waisman added. The acquitted legislators are Rubí Rodríguez, Milagros Huamán, Juan Mendoza del Solar -- brother of the current second vice president of the Republic, Lourdes Mendoza del Solar -- , Jorge D'Acunha, José Elías, Edilberto Canales, Guido Pennano, Jorge Polack and José Luna. Other defendants in the trial included former members of Congress Víctor Joy Way and Carmen Lozada, and present lawmaker Rolando Reátegui, all Fujimoristas, as well as Luz Salgado. Montesinos testified that they had accepted funds from SIN to finance their electoral campaigns in 2000. The Court also dismissed these cases, in spite of Montesinos’ testimony having been corroborated by his then secretaries Matilde Pinchi, María Angélica Arce and Mario Ruiz, who confirmed having made payments to the former members of Congress. According to the dossier seen by IPS, the former intelligence chief is not the only witness to have given evidence about the bribery. Two former legal advisers for SIN who worked under Montesinos -- Rafael Merino and Pedro Huertas -- testified to having written the agreements signed by the legislators.

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