On July 11th, Chilean Supreme Court Justice Orlando Álvarez rejected Peru’s request that former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori – currently under house arrest in Chile – be sent home to face charges of corruption and human rights violations. The much-anticipated ruling marked a dramatic and in many ways unexpected shift in the now year-and-a-half-old extradition case.
Álvarez dismissed all 12 charges against Fujimori, who is accused of numerous crimes ranging from illegal telephone tapping, to inappropriate use of state funds, to state-sponsored massacres.
"In all 12 of these cases, the (evidence) does not sufficiently demonstrate that Alberto Fujimori Fujimori participated to the extent that the extradition request suggests," the Supreme Court judge concluded. "It’s therefore possible to deduce that in this case the defendant hasn’t committed the crimes for which he’s been accused."
The long-awaited ruling is particularly surprising considering that just last month Supreme Court prosecutor Mónica Maldonado – in making her official recommendation on the case – came to the complete opposition conclusion. Maldonado found there to be enough evidence in 11 of the 12 cases originally presented against Fujimori to warrant the ex-president’s extradition.
"It appears to this prosecutor that the requirements are there to justify the Peruvian government’s request that Peruvian citizen Alberto Fujimori be extradited," Maldonado told reporters at the time.
Of those 11 cases, nine involve allegations of corruption. The other two relate to the so-called La Cantuta and Barrios Altos massacres, both committed by an infamous government-backed death squad known as the Colina Group. Prosecutors suggest that Fujimori had direct knowledge of and may have even ordered the Colina Group’s anti-subversion operations. In total, 25 people, including a small child and a professor, were murdered in the La Cantuta and Barrios Altos massacres, which took place in 1991 and 1992 respectively (ST, Dec. 22, 2005).
Reaction to Monday’s Supreme Court ruling varied. Chilean Interior Minister Belisario Velasco told members of the press that the government will respect the Court’s "sovereign" ruling. "The government doesn’t interfere in decisions made by the judiciary. This is a sovereign decision," he said. Belisario insisted also that the ruling will not affect relations between Chile and Peru.
Peruvian Foreign Affairs Minister José Antonio García Belaúnde took a similar stance, stating that the current Peruvian administration has always respected the rulings of Chile’s justice system. "We haven’t changed our opinion in that regard," the Peruvian official told El Mercurio.
Peruvian Justice Minister María Zavala, on the other hand, was more critical of the ruling, telling members of the press that Peru has lost "the battle but not the war." "The ruling goes against the interests of the Peruvian state," she said. Zavala said also that Peru will continue to push for Fujimori’s extradition.
Indeed, the extradition case is not expected to end with Judge Álvarez’s announcement. Peruvian prosecutors are likely to appeal the ruling, sending the matter to the Chilean Supreme Court’s Second Chamber. In the meantime, Fujimori is to remain under house arrest.
Also paying close attention to Monday’s ruling was Raul Paiba, president of a Santiago-based group called the Committee of Peruvian Refugees in Chile. Paiba, a former university teacher, who came to Chile in 1992 after being arrested on what he claims were trumped-up terrorism charges, has been a vocal and consistent critic of the ex-Peruvian president.
"This is very disappointing," said Paiba. "Disappointing especially when you take into account the opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IAHRC), which ruled that (Fujimori) should be tried in Peru for crimes against humanity."
Last November, in the case of "La Cantuta vs. Peru," the Costa Rica-based IAHRC ruled against the Peruvian government, ordering it to apologize for the 1991 massacre and pay reparations to families of victims.
"Judge (Álvarez) doesn’t find him responsible because there’s no evidence. Nothing’s written down. But dictators don’t tend to write down their orders, right?," Paiba added. "We consider this (ruling) a set back
in our fight against impunity for all dictators and people accused of genocide."
Like Paiba, the human rights group Amnesty International (AI) also described Monday’s ruling as "disappointing," noting in a press release that Fujimori is accused of numerous human rights violations including murder, forced disappearances and torture.
"Chilean authorities are obliged under international law to either extradite Fujimori to Peru or investigate the accusations of human rights violations," said Guadalupe Marengo, AI’s vice director of the Americas Program.
Fujimori governed Peru from 1990 to 2000 before internal pressures forced his flight to Japan, where he famously tendered his resignation via fax. He remained in Japan for five years, taking advantage of his Japanese citizenship – something he inherited from his parents, both Japanese immigrants to Peru – to protect himself not only from requests that he be extradited to Peru, but also from two separate international arrest warrants.
Then, on Nov. 6, 2005, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Fujimori flew to Chile, where once his presence became known police detained him (ST, Nov. 7-8, 2005). The ex-president has been in legal limbo ever since.
Peruvian authorities originally asked that Fujimori be surrendered to them. Chile, however, opted to place the decision in the hands of its Supreme Court, following protocol set by a 1932 extradition treaty between the two countries.
Contact Benjamin Witte – firstname.lastname@example.org