Peru sentences ex-president to 6 years for wiretaps, bribes

A Peruvian court has sentenced former President Alberto Fujimori to six years in prison after he pleaded guilty to authorizing wiretaps and bribes to politicians, journalists and businessmen.
In this photo released by Peru's Justice Palace, former president Alberto Fujimori rubs his eyes during his trial on Wednesday. ((Associated Press/Justice Palace Press Office, Paco Medina))
A Peruvian court imposed a six-year prison sentence Wednesday on disgraced ex-President Alberto Fujimori, who already faced the prospect of spending the rest of his life in a cell after three previous convictions. He also was fined about $9.7 million Cdn for authorizing wiretaps and bribes.

The sentencing concluded two years of televised trials that forced a country still divided over its bloody past to relive the darkest days of Fujimori's authoritarian, corruption-riddled administration.

Animated and unrepentant in early trials, the ailing former president appeared resigned in his later hearings. TV cameras often caught Fujimori sleeping at his table alone in the centre of the courtroom.

Asked by the presiding judge Wednesday if he accepted his sentence in the corruption trial, Fujimori stood up and quietly told the court, "I move to nullify."

On Monday, Fujimori pleaded guilty to the charges, a decision his lawyer says was based on the belief that he could not get a fair trial before the special Supreme Court panel.

Since his 2007 extradition to Peru from Chile, the three-judge panel has convicted Fujimori of crimes against humanity for authorizing military death squads, of abuse of power for an illegal search and of embezzlement for paying his spy chief the equivalent of more than $16 million Cdn in state funds.

Maximum sentence

Prison terms are served concurrently in Peru, so the 25-year sentence imposed in the murder and kidnapping trial is the maximum he could serve. Arrested in Chile in 2005, that would leave Fujimori in jail until 2030.

He could be freed far earlier, however, if his daughter Keiko is elected president in 2011. She has vowed to pardon her father and leads some recent campaign polls, largely because Fujimori remains popular for crushing the Maoist Shining Path rebels during his decade in power.

Keiko did not attend the sentencing, but her lieutenant, congressman Carlos Raffo, told reporters outside the court that the "unjust" trials were a "necessary step in the process of Alberto Fujimori's return and rectification in Peru."

"Now it's our turn," said Raffo. "The Fujimori movement's response will be political."

Monday's guilty plea allowed Fujimori to avoid an arduous trial that could damage his health and Keiko's campaign by reminding voters of his regime's rampant corruption.

While Fujimori's lawyer, Cesar Nakazaki, told judges he was in complete compliance with the sentence, outside the court he said the panel's rulings are politically motivated.

The court convicted Fujimori of ordering his former spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, to use state funds to manipulate and consolidate control of the nation.

Secret wiretaps

The crimes include secretly wiretapping 28 politicians, journalists and businessmen during his 10-year regime, bribing 13 congressmen to cement his party's parliamentary majority and buying off a TV station and a newspaper editorial board to support his fraudulent re-election campaign in 2000.

Montesinos testified in his own trials that he made the payoffs on behalf of Fujimori. Fujimori argued at an earlier trial that he knew nothing of the money and that Montesinos was using the bribes to win support for a planned coup against him.

This time, Fujimori made no attempt to explain the charges away.

Along with the six-year sentence, the court ordered Fujimori to pay $8 million to the government and $1 million to be shared between the 28 people whose phones were tapped.

Prosecutors, however, have never been able to locate the money that Fujimori is believed to have stolen, unlike Montesinos, who Swiss bankers turned in. Fujimori insists he has no money and says he lived off the generosity of his friends in Japan.

Chief Prosecutor Jose Pelaez said an appeal would be filed seeking a stiffer prison sentence, arguing that evidence supported his request for an eight-year penalty.

Fujimori ruled Peru with an increasingly iron fist from 1990 to 2000, when his government collapsed in scandal over videos of Montesinos bribing a congressmen. He attempted to return from exile in Japan in 2005 only to be arrested in Chile and extradited to Peru.