Former Peru President Fujimori Faces Extradition
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Coming up: Explaining economic moral hazard. But first, former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was flown out of Chile this morning, bound back home for the first time in seven years.
Mr. Fujimori will stand trial in Peru on charges of human rights violations and corruption. That stemmed from his decade-long rule in the 1990s. He's been fighting extradition since his surprising landing in Chile in November of 2005.
But as NPR's Julie McCarthy reports from Santiago, Chile's high court has cleared the way for his long-awaited legal reckoning.
JULIE McCARTHY: The president of the criminal court of Chile's Supreme Court had the honor of announcing what human rights activists are calling a landmark decision. Interest in whether Fujimori would be sent packing back to Peru was so intense that when Judge Alberto Chaigneau descended the court's ornate marble staircase with this weighty news, he was swept up in a scrum.
Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)
McCARTHY: Reporters throwing elbows jockeyed for a position around the portly judge who was barely audible above their barrage.
(Soundbite of crowd speaking Spanish)
McCARTHY: Was it complicated to agree, he was asked? No, it was long. Were you pressured to make this ruling? Pressured? No, he answered incredulously. And explained that the court was unanimous in the most divisive issue.
Justice ALBERTO CHAIGNEAU (Supreme Court, Chile): (Spanish spoken)
McCARTHY: What is important, he said, is that two human rights counts were unanimously accepted by the five-judge panel. Chile's Supreme Court thus paved the way for Fujimori to face prosecution in Peru for the killings of 25 people by military intelligence officers ostensibly under his direction.
In 1991, officers opened fire on a party in Lima, killing 15. In 1992, a squad shot a university professor and nine students. A former squad member later testified that the operations were the government's response to guerilla attacks from the Maoist group Shining Path.
Alfredo Etcheverry represented the Peruvian government in the proceeding. He said the outcome was a victory for international penal justice.
Mr. ALFREDO ETCHEVERRY (Lawyer, Peru Government): I believe it is the first case in which, by the way of extradition, a former chief of state is sent to stand trial at his country of origin. It's not a conviction of former President Fujimori. It merely makes it possible for him to be brought to trial in his own country by his own countrymen, and that's the important thing.
McCARTHY: Once admired for crushing the Shining Path and assisting the poor with clinics and schools, Fujimori's drift toward authoritarianism soured many of his countrymen. Evidence of corruption angered them more.
In 2000, Fujimori, who is of Japanese descent, fled Peru for Japan, from where he famously resigned from office in a fax. A stunned South America watched as he landed in Chile in 2005, announcing plans to run again for president of Peru.
His 22-month-long stay has ended with Chile's high court finding merit in corruption charges, including the diversion of $50 million in state funds. Human Rights Watch Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco said with its decision, Chile's court is beginning to shed its ultraconservative approach and sympathetic treatment of autocratic rulers.
Mr. JOSE MIGUEL VIVANCO (Director, Human Rights Watch Americas): And even after Chile recovered democracy, the Supreme Court of Chile was never really very enthusiastic about protecting freedoms and promoting human rights. So the decision that has been adopted today is historical for Chile, for this Supreme Court and, obviously, is a landmark ruling for the rest of the world.
McCARTHY: Fujimori returns home with far fewer charges against him than were originally brought. The court accepted seven and rejected six of the charges that the Peruvian government filed. That was my objective, he said last night, putting a positive gloss on his legal travails that could put Fujimori behind bars for years.
Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Santiago, Chile.
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