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Vladimiro Montesinos

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Vladimiro Montesinos

Vladimiro Lenin Montesinos Torres (born May 20, 1945) was the long-time, all-powerful head of Peru's intelligence service, Servicio de Inteligencia Nacional (SIN), under President Alberto Fujimori. In 2000, a secret video was released revealing him bribing a politician and the ensuing scandal caused Montesinos to flee the country, later bringing down the administration of Fujimori. Subsequent investigations revealed Montesinos was at the center of a vast web of illegal activities, including embezzlement, graft, and drug trafficking, for which he is currently being tried.

Contents

Early years

Montesinos was born in Arequipa.

In 1965, as a military cadet, he studied at the US Army's School of the Americas.

In the early 1970s, during the leftist Military Government of General Juan Velasco, Montesinos became a captain of the army. In 1973, he was appointed aide to the army chief and prime minister, General Edgardo Mercado.

In 1976, Montesinos was charged by My. Army Jose Fernandez Salvatteci with spying for the United States because he revealed a list of weapons that Peru bought from the Soviet Union. The investigation was terminated abruptly by Mercado.

Velasco was deposed in 1975, and Montesinos made a two-week visit to the United States, paid for by an American government grant. Upon his return to Lima, he was arrested for not having obtained formal permission for the trip from the government of Peru. During the investigation that followed, top-secret documents were found in his possession that he had photocopied and given to the American CIA. It was also discovered that Montesinos traveled to the US without authorization of the army command, and fraudulently created the military document required to travel. He furthermore visited several foreign institutions representing the Peruvian army, but without being authorized by it. The following year, Montesinos was tried in Peruvian tribunals and was dishonorably discharged and sentenced to military prison.

(US State Department documents later declassified suggest why the CIA may have sought out Montesinos. At the time, Peru was the only left-wing regime in a continent dominated by right-wing governments, and the United States was locked in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Montesinos had information about a potential attack by the Peruvian generals against Chile, then ruled by Augusto Pinochet, a staunch US ally. [1] (http://www.globalpolicy.org/nations/corrupt/2001/0803cia.htm))

In February of 1978 Montesinos was freed after serving two years of prison. At that time, his first cousin, the lawyer Sergio Cardenal Montesinos, gave him work at his law office and insisted Montesinos finish his law studies. In April of the same year, Montesinos registered in the San Marcos University (UNMSM). On July 24, only three months after registering, Montesinos received a false professional title of lawyer from the university. The following month, using this false title, he registered as lawyer in the Superior Court of Lima. Ten days later, he became a member of the Colegio de Abogados de Lima, the Lima lawyers' association.

Montesinos soon became known as a major contact of Colombian drug-traffickers in Peru. He became the official lawyer of several and also their "trusted" man. In 1979, he signed as a guarantor of the rent contract of a couple offices/warehouses used by the Colombian Jaime Tamayo Tamayo, in which cocaine manufacturing labs were established and were later raided by the police. In 1984, Montesinos sold classified information about Peru to the Ecuadorian Army. The information contained the complete listings of all weapons that Peru had purchased from the USSR.

Fujimori years

Montesinos first came to public notice when he defended Fujimori, then a obscure candidate in the 1990 Peruvian presidential elections, against accusations of fraudulent real estate dealings. The paperwork in that case mysteriously disappeared and the charges were quietly dropped. After Fujimori won the election on July 28, 1990, Montesinos became his chief advisor and the effective head of the SIN. Through his position, he came to have virtually unlimited power within Peru. By promoting his classmates and cronies into top positions, Montesinos came to control the Peruvian armed fores. During the course of the decade, he oversaw a mafia that permeated media, business, political parties, and government. When anyone had a problem in Peru, the most effective solution was to turn to Montesinos. He could cut through red tape and across bureaucratic barriers.

Montesinos in turn enjoyed the protection and patronage of powerful allies. Despite evidence that Montesinos was in business with Colombian narcotraffickers, the CIA paid Montesinos's organization $1 million a year for 10 years to fight drug trafficking. A declassified DEA document dated August 27, 1996, shows U.S. authorities were aware of allegations that Montesinos and the chairman of Peru's joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Nicolás Hermoza Ríos (also later jailed), were taking protection money from drug traffickers. [2] (http://www.freelori.org/news/01aug03_miamiherald.html)

Montesinos was also accused by his former accomplice Demetrio Chávez Peńaherrera, known as "El Vaticano", of being a protector of drug trafficers. In a drug trafficking trial on August 16, 1996, Chávez Peńaherrera stated that he had bribed members of the Peruvian Armed Forces and had also paid Montesinos, as the effective chief of the Peruvian Intelligence Service (SIN) to be able to operate freely in Campanilla, a jungle area of the Huallaga region. Montesinos was paid US$50,000 a month during 1991 and 1992. [3] (http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB37/04-01.htm) As proof, in the trial were presented recordings of radio communications between drug trafficers of Chávez's organization and members of the Armed Forces. The recording showed that members of the army had let his organization operate freely in the Hallaga region, in exchange for bribes. During certain appearances in the court, Chávez appeared drugged and maybe tortured. After sentencing, while in prison, Chávez talked to the press and revealed that Montesinos mentioned to him at one point that he "did some work" with Pablo Escobar, leader of the Medellín Cartel. He also mentioned that the ex-president of the Armed Forces Joined Command, retired general Nicolás de Bari Hermoza, and the ex-President Alberto Fujimori, had both complete knowledge of the illicit acts of Montesinos.

Montesinos also took care of Fujimori's political opponents. Evidence shows he supervised a death squad known as the Grupo Colina, part of the National Intelligence Service, which was thought to have been responsible for the La Cantuta massacre, in nine students and a professor disappeared from La Cantuta university on July 18, 1992. Four officers who were tortured after plotting a coup d'état against Fujimori in November 1992 stated that Montesinos took an active part in torturing them.

On March 16, 1998, former Peruvian Army Intelligence Agent Luisa Zanatta accused Montesinos of ordering illegal wiretaps of leading politicians and journalists. Zanatta also said that army intelligence agents killed fellow agent Mariella Barreto Riofano because she gave a magazine information about human rights violations and where bodies from the La Cantuta massacre were buried. Shortly before Barreto was killed, she told Zanatta that she was part of the Grupo Colina death squad responsible for the La Cantuta massacre. Barreto's body was found by a roadside on March 29, 1997. The body showed evidence that Barreto was tortured before she was decapitated and her hands and feet cut off.

In 1997, Montesinos and Fujimori organized and closely supervised the commando raid which freed the hostages held during the Japanese embassy crisis. During the operation, one hostage died and all fourteen of the MRTA militants were killed. The success of the operation was tainted, however, by subsequent revelations that at least one and possibly as many as eight of the Emerrtistas had been summararily executed after surrendering. One Japanese hostage, Hidetaka Ogura, an embassy employee, stated that he saw Eduardo Cruz ("Tito") alive shortly after the commandos stormed the building. He was then turned over to Colonel Jesús Zamudio Aliaga, but Cruz was later reported as having died during the assault. After the operation, the bodies of the rebels were quickly buried in unmarked graves around the capital. In 2001, on the basis of Ogura's testimony, the MRTA family members filed a suit alleging extrajudicial killings. Peruvian prosecutors ordered the exhumation of the fourteen bodies. Subsequent forensic investigations established that eight of the rebels were apparently shot in the head after capture or while defenseless because of injuries, including Eduardo Cruz Sánchez, who died from a single bullet to the back of the neck. [4] (http://www.aprodeh.org.pe/sem_verdad/comision_verdad/21may2002ii.htm) [5] (http://www.aprodeh.org.pe/sem_verdad/comision_verdad/22may2002ii.htm) [6] (http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/mrta/mrtaex3.html) [7] (http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0XPQ/is_2001_March_19/ai_72345578) [8] (http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/peru/fujimori-mrta.htm)

Montesinos also gained extensive control of the media in Peru. In April 1997, Baruch Ivcher's Frecuencia Latina Channel 2 broadcast allegations by Peruvian Army Intelligence agent Leonor La Rosa that she was tortured by intelligence agents (Later proved to be based on false investigations [9] (http://www.agenciaperu.com/reportes/2005/abr/larosa.htm)[10] (http://www.agenciaperu.com/investigacion/2005/abr/larosa.htm)). (It also reported that Montesinos' tax records indicated he was making $600,000 a year, even though his official salary was $18,000.) On July 14 1997, Ivcher was stripped of his Peruvian nationality and in September control of his station was handed to minority shareholders more friendly to the government. In response, former United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar said, "Peru is no longer a democracy. We are now a country headed by an authoritarian regime." By the end of 1999, Montesinos had editorial control over Channels 2, 4, 5, 9, and 13. Channel 7 was already state-owned. One of the country's two cable channels, Channel 10 had been secretly purchased for the armed forces. That left just one independent station in Peru: Channel N, a twenty-four-hour cable news outlet that reached barely 5% of the population.

By the end of the 1990s, as Fujimori's position weakened, Montesino's machinations became increasingly crude. During the controversial 2000 election, observers found that Fujimori's name was placed on the ballot through the forging of more than one million signatures. In the runup to the vote, a journalist who claimed to have a videotape of Montesinos bribing election officials to fix the vote was kidnapped by secret police agents, who sawed his arm to the bone in an attempt to extract the tape from him. In view of such tactics, the Clinton administration threatened briefly not to recognize Fujimori's victory. It backed off from this threat, however, pursuing a policy of pressuring the government to clean up its image, in part by ousting Montesinos. US policy was aimed at preserving these “achievements” of the Fujimori regime, while doing away with some of its “excesses.” Continuing political unrest in Peru would have represented a serious problem as operations against the FARC in Colombiagot under way. Peru was needed as a base of operations and a backstop against guerrillas based in Colombia's south, not far from the Peruvian border. [11] (http://www.wsws.org/articles/2000/sep2000/peru-s21.shtml)

Downfall

Frequently, Montesinos secretly videotaped himself bribing individuals in his office, and he made thousands of such tapes(it is said the approximate number of tapes is 2700), incriminating politicians, officials and military officers and, in all probability, Fujimori himself. It was the broadcasting of one of these tapes which brought him to ruin.

His downfall appears to have precipitated by the discovery of a major arms shipment, airlifted from Jordan via Peru, to the FARC in southern Colombia. Fujimori credited his secret police chief with uncovering the arms smuggling, which involved upwards of 10,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, adding that the episode proved the need for such a man at the helm of the Peruvian security apparatus. Jordan, however, rejected the Peruvian version, insisting the shipments were legitimate government-to-government deals. Evidence emerged which pointed to Montesinos having orchestrated the gun-running operation rather than dismantling it. A senior Peruvian general was found to have participated in the deal, and another principal participant was a government contractor who has signed at least eleven deals with the regime, most of them to provide supplies to the Peruvian military. According to one report, a group of military officers angered by Montesinos's apparent role in the arms deal broke into his offices and stole the video that was subsequently broadcast. Because of this deal, Montesinos lost the support of the US, which attached high strategic importance to crushing the FARC. Montesinos turned from being an asset to a liability.

On the evening of September 14, 2000, Peruvian cable TV station Canal N broadcast a video of Montesinos appearing to give a bribe of $15,000 to opposition congressman Alberto Kouri for his defection to President Alberto Fujimori's Perú 2000 party. The video, leaked to the Peruvian opposition party FIM (Independent Moralising Front), was the first of many his tapes to become public. Shortly thereafter, Montesinos fled to Venezuela. Fujimori held on for another month, then fled to Japan, from where he submitted his resignation by fax.

In subsequent months, the Peruvian public was treated to various of the notorious "vladi-videos". In one, owners of Channel 2 are offered USD $500,000 a month to ban appearances of the political opposition on their channel. Another shows Channel 4 owners getting $1.5 million a month for similar cooperation. Others show Montesinos counting out $350,000 in cash to Channel 5's proprietor and the owner of Channel 9 receiving $50,000 to cancel a bothersome investigative series called SIN censura ("Uncensored").

In June 2001, the Venezuelan government arrested Montesinos in Caracas and extradited him to Peru.

Trial

As of 2005, Montesinos is imprisoned at the Callao maximum-security prison naval base (which was built under his orders during the 1990s) and is facing sixty-three charges that range from drug trafficking to murder. The lengthy series of court cases in Lima to which he is being tried is revealing the scale of the corruption during the Fujimori administration.

One notable example is the 1998 purchase of three second-hand MiG-29 fighter planes from Belarus, for which the Peruvian Government is thought to have paid USD $300 million, though the actual cost of the planes is said to have been only around $100 million. Following subsequent international investigations involving the sale, the government of Italy issued an arrest warrant for Yevgeny Ananyev, former general director of the government-owned company Rosvooruzhenie. Ananyev has been accused of money laundering with Montesinos by diverting $18 million through Swiss and Italian banks after overseeing the sale of the jet fighters via Belarus. [12] (http://www.rusnet.nl/news/2004/06/07/print/currentaffairs02.shtml)

Montesinos has been found guilty of embezzlement, illegally assuming his post as intelligence chief, abuse of power, influence peddling and bribing TV stations. Those carry sentences of between five and fifteen years, but Peruvian prison sentences are served concurrently, so prosecutors continue to pursue him on additional charges. He has also been found not guilty on two specific charges of corruption and conspiracy related to the mayor of Callao who he was alleged to have helped evade drug trafficking charges.

In August 2004, U.S. officials returned to Peru $20 million in funds embezzled by Montesinos that had been deposited in U.S. banks by two men working for him. Prime Minister Carlos Ferrero and other prosecutors believe that the total amount embezzeled by Montesinos during his tenure at the National Intelligence Service surpasses one billion dollars, most of which was deposited in foreign banks.

In November 2004 Wilmer Yarleque Ordinola, an alleged member of Mentesino's Colina group death squad was apprehended in a Virginia. He stands accused in 26 of the 7,260 deaths or disappearances attributed to the Colina Group. He now faces extradition to Peru. [13] (http://peru.com/noticias/idocs/2003/8/29/DetalleDocumento_97139.asp)

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