Peruvian journalist sues politicians, media outlets for digital intrusion as part of controversial corruption case

  • By
  • October 30, 2013

By Alejandro Martínez

Peruvian investigative reporter Mónica Vecco filed a criminal complaint against five persons -- among them politicians and media directors -- for allegedly having broken into her email and using several messages out of context to accuse her of helping a fugitive escape the country. According to her complaint, the actions were part of a plan to discredit her and, ultimately, the recent congressional and journalistic efforts to investigate alleged acts of corruption committed during the administration of former Peruvian President Alán García.

Vecco, who also reported having received death threats, requested police protection for her and her 10-year-old son.

Vecco sued Mauricio Mudler, a congressman with political party APRA and owner of newspaper El Diario de Hoy, APRA president Jorge del Castillo, El Diario de Hoy director Fernando Viaña, Rosana Cueva, director of TV news show Panorama, and former drug trafficker Carlos Butrón Dos Santos, who provided one of the key testimonies to an investigation into the alleged sale of presidential pardons to drug traffickers during García's administration, also known as the "narco indultos” case.

Vecco is accusing them of defamation and having violated her communications and intimacy.

In her complaint Vecco described an alleged campaign against her that began in September, made her the target of several media attacks and culminated in the hacking of her email account -- all in relation to her work at the multi-party congressional commission in charge of investigating alleged irregularities committed during García's tenure, also known as the "megacomisión."

Vecco said that because of her experience as an investigative journalism she was invited to lead the factchecking team of the megacomisión. She began on January 2012 and ended her contract on May 2013; since then, she has taught journalism courses at local universities and worked as a communication consultant for several international organizations.

On Sept. 7, Mulder publicly accused congressman Sergio Tejada, the head of the megacomisión, of having leaked a preliminary report on one of the entity's investigations through Vecco, who he identified as Tejada's press secretary. In her complaint, Vecco pointed out she left the congressional commission three months before the leak and had never worked with Tejada's press team.

Days later, El Diario de Hoy – which belongs to Mulder – accused Vecco of having received a questionable salary and being romantically with another former member of the commission's technical team.

And on Oct. 19, Rosana Cueva, with Peruvian TV show Panorama, contacted Vecco to inform her she had obtained copies of several email messages Vecco had exchanged with Butrón Dos Santos, which Cueva planned to broadcast the next day.

In her complaint, Vecco explained the nature of her communication with Butrón Dos Santos. According to her version, Butrón Dos Santos -- who had recently fled Peru -- first contacted her in late September through a Facebook friend request.

“Finding myself once again free to work as an investigative journalist, I exchanged information while chatting with some colleagues and I decided to accept his request out of journalistic interest, since (Butrón Dos Santos) could provide details on the true motives of his escape" from the country, Vecco wrote on her complaint.

However, during Panorama's Oct. 20 edition, where the program broadcasted part of the messages and featured a telephone interview with former President Alán García, Mauricio Muller accused Vecco of having helped Butrón Dos Santos flee the country. Jorge del Castillo also accused her of having helped the former inmate get in touch with several media outlets.

During the same show, Butrón Dos Santos appeared in a video recording in which he retracted from his original accusations against García's administration and said he made them under pressure from congressman Tejada. According to Panorama, Vecco exchanged emails with Butrón Dos Santos to offer him help with the authorities.

On Oct. 21, Jorge del Castillo filed a lawsuit against Vecco and Tejada for criminal conspiracy and other accusations.

Tejada called Butrón Dos Santos' change of heart an attempt to damage the megacomisión. Days later, Peru's anti-corruption prosecutor Julio Arbízu received a complaint from several anonymous informants who said they had been offered bribes to remain silent on the narcoindultos case, which allegedly included a payment for Butrón Dos Santos to change his story.

In her complaint, Vecco, who stated she did not investigate the narcoindultos case during her work with the megacomisión or help Butrón Dos Santos leave the country, said that edited versions of her emails that appeared in Panorama were "used maliciously to incriminate the plaintiff."

Vecco added that the attacks against her seek to discredit the congressional and journalistic investigations on the alleged acts of corruption committed during García's administration:

What was the goal of all these clumsy and silly falsehoods? It was obvious that a large operation of yet unknown implications was being prepared, that aimed and aims -- now we know thanks to the press -- to discredit the megacomisión's investigations, topple congressman Sergio Tejada, prosecutor Julio Arbízu and anti-corruption prosecutor José Antonio Maldonado, and intimidate investigative journalists working for newspapers like Diario 16, La República, Caretas, etcetera and TV shows like América Televisión's Cuarto Poder and ATV 9 TV's RML, led by journalist Augusto Álvarez Ródrich, who made and continue to make very important contributions through their own investigations and denunciations of public corruption. It was evident that the goal was and is to make an example of me and show what could happen to them if they continued with their investigations and denunciations.

After the show was aired, Vecco said she started seeing vehicles and motorcycles following her near her house and office. Last week, Vecco added, a well-groomed man approached her, mentioned the Panorama story and said "this time you're not getting away, we're following you... take care of yourself."

Vecco asked authorities for 24-hour police protection and accused Mauricio Mulder and Jorge Castillo in advance "in case there is an attempt against my life or any of my direct or indirect relatives."

"I also hold Rosana Cueva Mejía and the owners of TV network Panamericana TV responsible for having broadcasted information without verification about me, which is false and that I absolutely deny," she said.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.