Peru's ex-president Fujimori is convicted for third time

LIMA, Peru — Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was convicted Monday of illegally paying off his former spymaster in 2000 with $15 million in public funds, making it the third time in less than two years that a court in Peru has found him guilty of violating the law.

Fujimori, 70, who governed Peru from 1990 to 2000, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April for sanctioning a paramilitary squad that gunned down 25 ordinary Peruvians in two separate operations.

The court in Monday's corruption case sentenced Fujimori to 7 1/2 years in prison, but it will have no practical effect since the 25-year sentence takes precedence.

Fujimori was first convicted of abusing power by authorizing an illegal search of Vladimiro Montesinos' apartment. He received a six-year sentence, which he's also serving concurrently.

It now appears that the only way Fujimori will leave prison alive or in good health is if his daughter, Keiko, is elected president in 2011. She's said she'd pardon him if she wins.

Keiko Fujimori has won the most votes of any congressional candidate in 2006 and is leading the early polls for the 2011 presidential contest with 20 percent of the vote.

Fujimori, who resigned by fax after a decade in power, is loved and loathed in Peru today.

Millions of ordinary Peruvians credit him with vanquishing hyperinflation and stamping out two guerrilla groups that ravaged the country. They also remember him inaugurating new schools, health clinics and roads throughout the poor country.

Millions of others, however, can't forgive the killing and kidnapping of innocent Peruvians by Fujimori's police during the war against the rebel group Shining Path and a smaller guerrilla group.

They also can't forgive Fujimori's government for turning increasingly autocratic as Fujimori stretched the law so he could remain in power as the economy worsened. Many people think that Fujimori stole his third election, in 2000.

The former president put up no defense in the latest case.

He admitted that he paid Vladimiro Montesinos, his chief political and military adviser, $15 million to leave the country. Fujimori said the payment averted a military coup by Montesinos.

"I was obligated to do it because the stability of the country was at risk," Fujimori testified, "given the total control" that Montesinos had over the military.

Analysts think that Fujimori was making an effort to get rid of Montesinos, shortly after videos aired on TV showing Montesinos paying off opposition members of Congress.

Montesinos is serving a 20-year sentence for diverting the government's purchase of weapons to Colombia's guerrillas and for bribing lawmakers and businessmen.

After resigning as president, Fujimori lived in Japan, where his parents were born. He made a surprise trip to Chile in November 2005 for reasons never fully explained and was promptly arrested. He was extradited to Peru in 2007.

Fujimori has been facing trials ever since.

As in previous cases, Fujimori accused his accusers on Friday of trying him for political reasons and said that he'd emerge victorious no matter what verdict the courts rendered.

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

The former president will have to submit to yet another trial on charges that he authorized his aides to illegally tap the phones of political enemies, bribe members of the Peruvian Congress and use public funds to air political propaganda.


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