Peru to Charge Fujimori With Corruption

Peru's attorney general's office will press corruption charges against former President Alberto Fujimori, ousted in November 2000 amid scandals over his fugitive spy chief, a spokesman said today.

They were the first criminal charges brought against Fujimori, sacked by Congress as morally unfit to govern after he fled to Japan when scandals over Vladimiro Montesinos sparked Peru's worst political crisis in a decade.

"Congress will first have to debate whether to lift Fujimori's immunity so that he can formally face the charges," a spokesman at the attorney general's office told Reuters.

Former presidents enjoy immunity from prosecution in Peru for five years after their term of office ends. But Congress has the power to lift this immunity.

The charges, filed Monday by a state prosecutor, include "illicit enrichment" and inappropriate use of public funds related to investigations into Montesinos.

The spokesman said some accusations were related to the lease in 1999 of a Peruvian military helicopter to the United Nations. Media reports say the government hired it out for millions of dollars more than it officially declared.

Congress Split Over Fujimori

It was unclear when Congress — split between a majority of supporters of interim President Valentin Paniagua and die-hard Fujimori supporters — will debate lifting the immunity.

Paniagua, a centrist elder statesman with a mandate to organize April 8 elections, replaced Fujimori last November and has urged an anti-corruption crusade.

If Fujimori's immunity from prosecution is lifted, the government then must begin extradition proceedings against the president, who remains in Japan, the spokesman said. Fujimori has denied any involvement in corruption.

Peru and Japan have no extradition treaty and Japan has made clear it will not hand over Fujimori any time soon.

Fujimori, Montesinos and hundreds of their supporters are being investigated by a myriad of courts and congressional commissions that say they are exposing a mafia that ran the country during the president's 10-year, ironhanded rule.

Lawyers say they have been slowly closing in on Fujimori during investigations into Montesinos, the ex-president's right-hand man for 10 years who is wanted on charges ranging from running death squads to money-laundering.

Jose Ugaz, the state lawyer investigating Montesinos, has said his office would recommend that Fujimori face the same charges as Montesinos.

"We are working on widening the charges to include ex-President Fujimori for all the charges that Montesinos also faces," Ugaz told reporters Monday.

Witnesses have said Montesinos fled the country in October 2000 by yacht to Costa Rica or Venezuela on a false passport. He has not been seen in public since.