The so called “anti corruption” system in Peru is beginning to collapse due to a series of abuses taken and specifically obvious in the most emblematic case being that of the brothers Moises and Alex, newspaper owners, who have been imprisoned since January 26, 2005.
Never in Peru’s history has there been a judicial systems as abusive and vindictive towards the content and point of view of popular media that supported the administration of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) in his economic reforms and fight against terrorism.
Due to an ironic twist of fate, five years after fleeing to Japan, the former president is in first or second place in all the political polls regarding the presidential elections to be held in Peru in 2006.
Toledo, on the other hand, with one year left to finish his term in office, has a meager 8% approval rating and has the dubious honor of being the most unpopular Latin American head-of-state in a recent survey, even lower than the exiled Ecuadorian president, Lucio Gutierrez.
“Delivery Service” Justice
To indict the Wolfenson brothers, the administration of Alejandro Toledo first resorted to an “innovation” of criminal law, inventing the concept of embezzlement of public funds and accessory to embezzlement of public funds to apply to citizens not involved in public administration.
It is a situation that, no doubt, would have inspired Franz Kafka for a 21st century version of The Process.
Using this judicial basis, without precedent anywhere in the world, and which at this time is being refuted in diverse cases, the intention was to show that there was a criminal relationship between the Wolfenson brothers and the de facto head of the intelligence service at the time, Vladimiro Montesinos, accusing them of having received money from the Peruvian Intelligence Service (known by its Spanish Acronym, SIN) to pave the way for Alberto Fujimori’s re-election in the year 2000 and attack his political enemies.
There is, however, a story behind this case. It stems from Alejandro Toledo’s government’s excessive pressure exerted on the principal opposition newspaper, “La Razon” that is linked to Moises Wolfenson. A request sent through Toledo’s emissary, Salomon Lerner Ghitis, suggested that if “ La Razon” toned down its criticism and would comply with the requirements of the Administration, then the courts would award a favorable verdict in the case against the businessmen accused of accessories to embezzlement.
All of this is on the Lerner-Wolfenson audio tape made public by a radio station in Lima on June 21, 2002. When Moises refuses to agree to modify the opposition line of LA RAZON, the government’s spokesman, Lerner Ghitis, brings up illicit arguments threatening jail time: “If you continue like this, they’re going to lock you up, too…the judge won’t have any kind of attenuating circumstances…Eight years when you attack; you’ll be locked up for four years. I’ll say no more. If they want to pin it on you, they’ll pin it on you”.
And Lerner Ghitis continues: “You’re going to be screwed even if the attorney general, the judge or the controller general have not as of yet been able to pin anything on you” (…) “The only thing I’m telling you is that you can’t fight power”.
Actually, up to that time, April, May and June of 2002, anti-corruption justice had not found any proof of criminal activity or any relationship between the Wolfenson brothers and the SIN which was run by Montesinos. In fact, there is no video, audio tape, or receipt as proof of an offense as there was in other cases.
For that reason the army officers linked to Montesinos, Mario Ruiz Agüero and Wilbert Ramos Viera, witnesses in the case, declared before a parliamentary commission and the Government Attorney Generaĺs Office that they had no knowledge of any payment made by the SIN to the Wolfenson brothers or the business they ran, Todo Sport SA, which published the pro-Fujimori newspaper, “El Chino”.
Everything began to change when Captains Ruiz Agüero and Ramos Viera recurred to the juridical concept of “effective collaboration” and changed their original statements in return for promises of help from the authorities.
Upon this turn of events in the process, the anti-corruption police proceeded to conduct a meticulous audit of the publishing company, “Editora Sport”, and arrived at the conclusion that there was no evidence of illegal or unjustified income.
The new course of the investigation, however, was already mapped out: on May 23, 2002, the Court of Appeals ordered that the Wolfenson brothers be placed under house arrest due to a request that they be imprisoned made by the attorney general and the deputy solicitor general, Ronald Gamarra, a public official who in the past had been part of the legal apparatus of the terrorist group, Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (known by its Spanish acronym, MRTA) the same group which held the world on edge when it captured the Japanese embassy in Lima.
That same day this public official stated on national television that the criminal liability of Moises Wolfenson was “totally proven”, violating due process and the principle of equal protection under the law, as the accused could not defend themselves from the televised onslaught of the solicitors general, the attorney general, the judge and the pro-government media dictatorship.
As the months wore on, that course would become brazen, starting with the third proceeding during the trial, in the year 2004, when the witnesses once again changed their story, saying they had delivered envelopes of money from the SIN as payment for headlines against opposers of Fujimori, although they could not prove that those envelopes contained money or headlines supposedly dictated to be published in the newspaper, “El Chino”.
Moisés Wolfenson and LA RAZON denounced the “buying of witnesses” on the part of the Government, as a result of solid evidence that the Executive Branch manipulated the “anti-corruption system” through the Ministry of Justice run by Fernando Olivera, a political ally of President Toledo, and the Ad Hoc solicitors general.
The anti-corruption court division presided over by Villa Bonilla, in charge of the Wolfenson case, had arrived at rash conclusions, such as that the “Todo Sport” company had deliberately founded the newspaper, “El Chino” to support the re-election campaign of then president Alberto Fujimori.
The truth shown in the trial, though, is that the Wolfenson brothers proved that “El Chino” was founded in 1995, much before the re-election campaign of 1999-2000.
The court also took into consideration the contents of the video transcript taken at SIN and labeled with the numbers 1792 and 1795 as incriminating evidence, as well as number 1195 where Montesinos tells the most important military officers the way to address the re-election of then president Fujimori. At no time was there mention of “buying” media or “drafting” headlines at the SIN offices.
Additionally, the Wolfenson brothers’ defense sustains that video number 1792 is inaudible, as the majority of its content cannot be understood. Only at the end can some words about the continuity of the Fujimori administration be heard; but at no time is there any reference to the Wolfensons or the newspaper, “El Chino”.
Nevertheless, the preceding arguments were part of the judgment. Without any additional proof other than the two witnesses who changed their story as well as the testimony of Matilde Pinchi Pinchi, Montesino’s mistress and former assistant, and without taking into account the impeccable audit previously taken by the anti corruption police as well as the objections of leaders of all opposition parties (Apra, National Unity, Popular Christian Party and independents) the Magistrates of the Criminal Courts, Section “A” in Lima’s Superior Courts, presided by Ines Villa Bonilla, on January 25, 2005 condemned the Wolfenson brothers to a 5 year sentence in what can be considered as the first punitive action against free press in Peru. It is also strange that the Wolfenson brothers are the only owners of an opposition newspaper that have been sentenced to jail.
In light of this act of mere political vengeance the Wolfenson’s defense has presented an appeal to the Peruvian Supreme Court to vacate the sentence based on procedural violations.
Add to the previous the political persecution initiated by the government through the different courts of justice against the Director of the La Razon newspaper, Mr. Uri Ben Shmuel, as well as against the main shareholder of the organization, who has not even been living in Peru for the last 23 years. It so happens that both are Jewish. . The proceeding is based on a defamation indictment against the newspaper and the aforementioned persons for information published by all of the Peruvian newspapers. No other newspaper or their owners, or directors, however, have been indicted. The Wolfenson defense has also appealed this case in the Peruvian courts.
That will be the second round of a proceeding that is more than emblematic, in which some observers find traces not only of political persecution but also, last but not least, a certain unpleasant air of antisemitism. Certainly another point in common with Kafka, as he was Jewish like Moises and Alex Wolfenson.