Prosecutor accuses former Peruvian Minister of the Interior of being co-author of murder of journalist in 1988

Daniel Urresti, former general and former Minister of the Interior during the government of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, was accused by prosecutor Luis Landa of being the co-author of the 1988 murder of journalist Hugo Bustíos. The prosecutor made this declaration during the current trial against Urresti and asked for 25 years in prison for the former general, newspaper La República reported.

The National Criminal Court will assess the accuracy of the accusation against Urresti presented by prosecutor Landa, who progressed from accusing him of being the perpetrator-by-means to being the co-author of the crime against Bustíos, according to newspaper El Comercio.

In 2013, the prosecution accused Urresti of being a perpetrator-by-means in the case for allegedly giving the journalist's execution order. In 1988, the former minister was intelligence chief in the military headquarters of Castropampa, in Huanta, Ayacucho. The current trial began in 2015.

This request to modify the accusation was made after the prosecutor was able to gather several statements from key witnesses, as well as collect new evidence, according to the Human Rights Commission (Comisedh for its acronym in Spanish). Landa accused Urresti of having directly participated in the murder of the correspondent of the magazine Caretas, La República reported.

Comisedh also said that prosecutor Landa highlighted the testimony of eyewitness Ysabel Rodríguez Chipana, who in October 2015 identified Urresti, Amador Vidal Sanbento and the late Sgt. Jhonny Zapata Acuña, among the military personnel who attacked Bustíos and his colleague Eduardo Rojas Arce. The prosecutor said that other means of proof have allowed him to confirm what Rodríguez Chipana said.

Both Rodríguez Chipana and two other residents of the area, Hilda Aguilar Gálvez and Alejandro Ortiz Serna, said as witnesses that official Vidal Sanbento was also at the scene and that he participated in the murder, La República reported.

In 2008, Colonel Víctor La Vera Hernández and Major Victor Amador Vidal Sanbeto of the Peruvian Army were sentenced to 17 and 15 years in prison, respectively, as perpetrators of the murder of Bustíos. After the trial, Vidal Sanbeto accused Urresti of having planned the murder of the journalist, according to Caretas.

Regarding the new turn in the trial against him, Urresti claimed that the appeal presented by the prosecutor is illegal, and that his final accusation should have been defined. "I do not care if they change the accusation directly because I have absolutely nothing to do [with it]. Moreover, neither the widow nor the Bustíos family accuse me, they are the ones who accuse, the person they denounce is captain Vidal Sanbento in their desperation to review his case,” Urresti said to news channel Canal N, according to El Comercio.

Comisedh's lawyer, Hernán Barrenechea, who represents the relatives of Bustíos in the trial, asked the National Criminal Court that the request of the prosecutor be declared appropriate. Earlier, he pointed out that Landa's request to modify the accusation against Urresti has legal protection and that the Public Prosecutor's Office has the power to do so. "There is no violation of the right of defense or due process," the lawyer said, according to El Comercio.

Bustíos at the age of 38 on Nov. 24, 1988 after he was shot and a grenade subsequently exploded in his body. This happened when the journalist was driving in a motorcycle outside the village of Huanta, Ayacucho, to find out about the death of a family at the hands of the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso.

He was accompanied by his colleague Eduardo Rojas Arce, when he received the bullet that made him fall off the bike. According to the blog LaMula, the magazine Caretas published about the crime that, at the moment he was shot, Bustíos shouted to Rojas: "Run, they are not senderistas, save yourself!".

Rojas Arce was wounded but managed to save himself, and confirmed in the various trials that followed that it was the military that killed Bustíos.

Before his death, Bustíos had asked the military authorities for permission to enter the area, since at that time there was a strong presence of the Sendero Luminoso terrorist group  in the country, especially in Ayacucho.

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.