Peru's Fujimori sentenced to six years for abuse of power

Other News Materials 12 December 2007 06:00 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - A Peruvian court Tuesday sentenced former president Alberto Fujimori to six years in prison for abusing his powers by ordering an illegal search in the dying days of his 1990-2000 rule.

The punishment -- which his lawyer immediately moved to appeal -- was handed down in a case heard separately from a trial that opened Monday against Fujimori, 69, for alleged human rights violations.

The ex-president was also fined 400,000 soles (135,000 dollars). He remained impassive and silent as the sentence was read out by the judge.

Fujimori's daughter, Keiko Fujimori, a Peruvian congresswoman, called the sentence "unjust."

"This is not going to stand. There will be an appeal. Before, it was political persecution, now it's judicial persecution. What can we hope for in the next cases?" she told reporters outside the court.

Fujimori has admitted to ordering the warrantless search of an apartment belonging to the wife of his corrupt spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos in November 2000.

But he claims the search was necessary as part of a nationwide hunt for Montesinos, then a fugitive wanted for both Swiss allegations of money-laundering, and for his involvement in bribing opposition figures.

That bribery scandal badly tainted Fujimori's own image and led to the collapse of his administration.

Montesinos managed to escape to Venezuela but was caught, extradited and convicted. He is still being prosecuted for a string of corruption cases.

Fujimori himself fled Peru at the end of 2000, running away to live for five years in Japan, where he also had citizenship through his Japanese parents. He was later arrested in Chile in 2005 and extradited to face the various charges against him in September this year.

On Wednesday, Fujimori is scheduled to be back in court for the continuation of a separate trial, in which he is accused of ordering a death squad to kill 25 suspected rebel sympathisers in the early 1990s, the kidnapping of an opposition journalist and a businessman, and four counts of corruption.

Fujimori on Monday strenuously protested his innocence in that case, saying: "I don't accept the charges against me ... I never ordered the death of anybody."

He added: "If there were horrible things done, it was not on my order and I condemn them."

After his furious outburst he complained of feeling ill, and the court doctor diagnosed high blood pressure, forcing the judge to call a recess for the rest of the day.

If convicted of violating human rights, Fujimori could go to prison for up to 30 years and be made to pay 33 million dollars in compensation to victims' families.

As sentences are served concurrently in Peru, such a verdict would far overshadow the punishment meted out in Tuesday's case.

Supporters of the former leader have been vocal in hailing him as a hero who vanquished the "terrorists" of the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru communist movements during his mandates.

They also emphasize the legacy of economic prosperity his neoliberal policies ushered in, and have called for him to be freed.

The trial is expected to drag on for months, possibly even years, before reaching a conclusion.

And even then, the matter may not be final; Peru's Supreme Court could be called in to decide an appeal.