- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2001

LIMA, Peru Vladimiro Montesinos is believed to be hiding abroad, but the fugitive former spy chief is never far from the thoughts of Peruvians.
That is largely because of his habit of videotaping all his meetings even those where he was bribing or compromising government officials.
While only a few of the videos have so far been made public, suspicions about their contents are overshadowing the campaign for April presidential elections and striking panic in the hearts of the nation's leading figures.
No one is exempt, including President Valentin Paniagua, who was named by a supposed former bodyguard of Mr. Montesinos on a news program last week as a member of the spy chief's corrupt network.
At the same time, rumors circulated that Peru's largest bank, Banco de Credito, was about to collapse. Both claims were found to be without basis, but each raised suspicions that Mr. Montesinos was still playing his devious games.
The mysterious manipulator is believed to have slipped out of Peru in October amid a corruption scandal that later brought down President Alberto Fujimori. If found, he faces possible trial for extortion, illicit enrichment and arms smuggling, among other charges.
But for the time being, it is the subjects of his videos who have more to fear.
Mr. Paniagua was accused on the television program of having received $30,000 from Mr. Montesinos to help fund his last campaign for Congress, prompting the president to immediately telephone the TV station and confront the program's host, Nicolas Lucar.
Thousands of viewers listened to a heated exchange in which Mr. Paniagua denied any relationship with Mr. Montesinos or any of his aides.
Several other leading politicians named by the bodyguard came to the station to protest. The program degenerated into a shouting match with the likes of Lima Mayor Alberto Andrade and the president of the Congress, Carlos Ferrero, storming in and out of the studio.
At a press conference the next day, Prime Minister Javier Perez de Cuellar accused associates of Mr. Montesinos of promoting a "campaign of slander." Before the shouting was done, the TV station's news team had resigned in protest, and Mr. Lucar had fled to Costa Rica with his family.
As the search for Mr. Montesinos continues, there are rumors that he is back in Peru. Jorge del Castillo, a trusted aide to presidential candidate Alan Garcia, said Mr. Montesino recently sent a letter to his daughter in which he proclaimed his innocence and spoke of revenge.
But there may be revenge enough in his collection of more than 2,500 videos now dubbed the "Vladivideos" which were discovered after he fled the country and are being shown to the public as they are reviewed by judges.
Uncertainty over who might next be seen accepting offers of money and jobs for relatives from Mr. Montesinos has practically frozen the electoral process.
In response, a new team of six judges has been appointed to speed up the viewing of the tapes under tightened security in a specially prepared room within the Justice Palace.
Even Mr. Garcia, who recently returned to Peru after a decade abroad, is not immune. The former secretary general of his party, Agustin Mantilla, appeared on a video receiving $30,000 from Mr. Montesinos, prompting Mr. Garcia to complain of a "stab in the back" by one of his closest friends.
He also charged that the videos were deliberately being released in a way to smear the opponents of the leading presidential candidates.
The rumors about Banco de Credito, Peru's largest bank, created panic in the already fragile financial system. A total of $6 million was withdrawn from the bank before Finance Minister Javier Silva Ruete was able to calm the market.
The rumors began when a commission investigating Mr. Montesino's bank accounts called for testimony from the bank's president, Dionisio Romero, who is reported to appear in one of the "Vladivideos."
Banco de Credito General Manager Ralmundo Morales condemned the rumors as a ruse to create local financial chaos, again leaving the suspicion that the hidden hand of Mr. Montesinos was at work.

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