Peruvian Assassination Plot Reported

An Argentine newspaper said on Friday Peru’s military chiefs had plotted to kill President Alberto Fujimori a month ago, but the president’s office in Lima declined comment on the report.

The report in Clarin was published as Fujimori hunted for the former spy master Vladimiro Montesinos who challenged his grip on the powerful military.

The report by award-winning Peruvian investigative reporter Angel Paez cited government sources quoting Fujimori warning of a plot—intended to mirror the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981— to have taken place at a Sept. 24 celebration for armed forces day.

The presidential palace said it had no comment on the report, which was also published on the Internet. No one was immediately available at the military command.

Fujimori had announced eight days earlier on Sept. 16 that he would step down next July after the worst political crisis of his 10-year rule was sparked by a corruption scandal involving Montesinos.

Spy Chief Sparked Turmoil

Montesinos, who ran the notorious intelligence service (SIN), hand-picked the military top brass and rallied them behind Fujimori. The president displayed his reliance on the military when he suspended the constitution and ordered tanks on the streets in a 1992 “self-coup.”

But a video aired on television on Sept. 14 showed Montesinos apparently bribing an opposition legislator to back the government. The ensuing scandal led to Fujimori’s bombshell decision to step down and call early elections.

With escalating rumors of a coup, Montesinos flew to Panama early on Sept. 24, hours before the ceremony at the army headquarters, known as the “Pentagonito” (little Pentagon).

The report, quoting cabinet sources, said that by being out of the country, Montesinos would have had an alibi.

President Learned of Plot

Fujimori got wind of the fact that military officials had told some of his ministers the ceremony—a major annual event attended by commanders of the three armed forces and the media — had been cancelled, according to the report.

“He (Fujimori) called the two ministers (Prime Minister Federico Salas and Economy Minister Carlos Bolona) ... and told them to accompany him because he had discovered there was a plot to assassinate him,” it quoted the sources as saying.

There was no immediate comment from the offices of Salas or Bolona.

According to the report, Fujimori told them the attack would be similar to the one against Sadat on Oct. 6, 1981. “That is, a jeep would come out of the line or a soldier would break formation and shoot the president,” it quoted Fujimori as telling the two ministers, adding he “did not hide his worry.”

Sadat was shot dead in Cairo by Moslem extremists as he watched a military parade.

The article said Fujimori was suspicious others had been told the parade was cancelled. “So he gave the order to find out from officers loyal (to him) what was really going on, and they told him a plan had been prepared to kill him in the same way as Sadat,” it quoted the sources as saying.

Fear of Coup

Fujimori attended the ceremony, with Salas and Bolona, and effusively praised the military for their “professionalism and their indisputable loyalty to the interests of Peru.”

Fujimori’s decision to quit four years early sparked fears of a coup, fuelled by the fact that the military took five days to back the president’s decision publicly.

According to the report, some sections of the military accused Fujimori of “treason” for deciding to step down early. Analysts say they feared exposure to potential charges of human rights abuses and a dilution of their power after Fujimori announced he was also deactivating the SIN.

The report said Peru’s head of the armed forces Jose Villanueva—believed to have been close to Montesinos — looked Fujimori in the eye as they raised their glasses in a toast after the ceremony and said: “There is nothing to celebrate, Mr President.”