Supreme Court acquits former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori in the case of “diarios chicha”

Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) was acquitted of crimes against the public administration in the case of the “diarios chichas,” or yellow press, by a Supreme Court panel presided over by controversial Judge Javier Villa Stein, reported El Comercio.

According to the state prosecution, during Fujimori’s second term between 1998 and 2000, the former president diverted funds from the Peruvian Air Force and Army to the now-defunct National Intelligence Service (SIN) without any legal basis. The amount totaled 122 million Nuevo Soles (about USD $40 million).

According to the court judgment, it was done under the name “Reserved expenses,” which according to the investigation of the prosecutor were meant for the purchase of titles of the “diarios chicha” that he used in his favor to discredit independent journalists and his opponents in his second reelection campaign.

On Aug. 16, all five judges of the Supreme Court criminal panel unanimously acquitted Fujimori, finding no clear evidence that the president gave the order to transfer the money, according to La República.

With this sentence, the Supreme Court cancels the Jan. 8, 2015 decision of the Fourth Criminal Court that condemned the former leader to eight years in prison, finding him guilty of the crime against the public administration, by the way of intentional embezzlement, in the case of the "diarios chichas." Additionally, he was ordered to pay 3 million Nuevo Soles (about USD $900,000) in civil damages.

According to La República, the text of the 2015 judgment shows statements from several former high-level officials of the Fujimori government that confirmed having provided money from the Armed Forces by order of the former leader. Among them were former general commanders of the Army and Air Force, José Villanueva Ruesta and Esleván Bello, respectively.

One of the main arguments of the Supreme Court ruling in favor of Fujimori is that there is not sufficient evidence incriminating him in this case. Another assertion from the court is that Fujimori, in his capacity as head of state, did not have the responsibility of taking care of public goods.

The decision has generated indignation and surprise in public opinion, according to La República. One reason is that three of the judges who acquitted Fujimori of the crime of embezzlement in this case had convicted him of the offense in other cases.

According to the former anti-corruption prosecutor Julio Arbizu, the ruling sets a dangerous precedent. He told La República, “if someone who has power to order the embezzlement of a public institution, without having the status of administrator, his conduct will not fit the crime of embezzlement, it will not be punishable, and of course, will be able to enjoy the money in freedom.”

Additionally, Arbizu said, “Clearly it is not necessary to be in physical contact with money to be an active participant.”

Carlos Rivera of the Legal Defense Institute told La República that they are “shocked” by the decision of the court.

The sentence has touches of shame and looks to consecrate impunity, because [according to] the terms in which it has been drafted (…) it is a kind of judgment at the request of the defense of Alberto Fujimori,” he added.

Twenty-nine people were processed for the case of the “diarios chicha.” Former presidential advisor and de facto head of the SIN, Vladimiro Montesinos, was one of those condemned to eight years in prison for conspiracy and embezzlement in that case.

Moisés and Aléx Wolfenson, directors and owners of the newspapers “El Chino,” “El Men,” and “La Razón,” were sentenced to five years in prison for embezzlement. Owners of other yellow press newspapers, like José Olaya, Pablo Documet and Alejandro Estrenos, also received similar convictions, according to Útero.pe.

“El Mañanero”, “La Chuchi”, “El Tío”, “El Chato”, “La Yuca”, among others, were some of the sensational tabloids whose editorial lines favored Fujimori in the 1999 electoral campaign.

Since 2009, Fujimori has served a sentence of 25 years in the Lima prison of Directorate of Special Operations – where he is the only prisoner – for cases of corruption and crimes against humanity for the massacres of La Cantuta (1992) and Barrios Altos (1991).

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.