World

Peru's ex-president convicted of embezzlement

Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori was convicted and sentenced to 7½ years in prison for embezzlement on Monday after he admitted illegally paying his spy chief $15 million in government funds.

Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori was convicted and sentenced to 7½ years in prison for embezzlement on Monday after he admitted illegally paying his spy chief $15 million in government funds.

Fujimori sat expressionless as the verdict and sentence were read in a Lima, Peru, courtroom. He then told the court that he was moving to nullify the ruling and walked out of the courtroom.

The conviction is the third in less than two years for the ex-leader. He was sentenced in April to 25 years in prison for authorizing military death squad activity during his 10-year rule.

Previously, he was convicted of abuse of power and sentenced to six years for an illegal search.

Peruvian prison sentences do not accumulate, so 25 years is the maximum term the 70-year-old Fujimori can serve.

Fujimori acknowledged making the payoff — avoiding a drawn-out trial that could damage his daughter's candidacy for the 2011 presidential election. Keiko Fujimori has said she will pardon her father if she wins.

During a spirited defence on Friday that critics called a campaign speech for his daughter, Fujimori said he was obligated to make the payment to avoid a military coup plotted by former intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos.

"The true judgment for me is that of the people, who have long absolved me in their hearts," Fujimori said.

He called the decision political and said he did not expect to find justice in court.

Presiding Judge Cesar San Martin opened the hearing on Monday by denying any political intent.

Fujimori faces yet another trial on allegations that he authorized illegal phone taps and congressional bribes and that he used state funds to purchase a TV station to air political propaganda.

At the start of the trial last week, Fujimori acknowledged using state funds to make the irregular payment to Montesinos, but said he should not be held criminally responsible because he later repaid it with money found in the headquarters of the intelligence agency.

As his government was collapsing in 2000 after a videotape surfaced showing Montesinos bribing a congressman, Fujimori signed an executive order transferring $15 million to the Defence Ministry to defend against a supposed incursion of Colombian rebels in Peru.

The court ruled that the money was handed over to Montesinos, who moved it to foreign bank accounts and fled for Panama.

Prosecutors dispute Fujimori's claim that he found $15 million in Montesinos' intelligence agency 41 days after the illegal payoff and have called for a separate investigation.

The former president still enjoys some popularity for neutralizing Shining Path guerrillas that nearly toppled the government, but a series of recent trials have tied him to corruption and human rights abuses.