Sun, Apr 24, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Peru caught up in real-life drama of sex, spies, bribes

AP , Lima, Peru

High-octane talk show star Laura Bozzo has admitted in court that she was hopelessly in love with Peru's imprisoned ex-intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos.

But the bleached blonde host of the Jerry Springer-like show "Laura" -- a Spanish language hit in the US and much of Latin America -- denied charges Friday that she took bribes from Montesinos to support ex-President Alberto Fujimori's fraud-filled re-election campaign.

"I would go and see Mr. Montesinos because I was absolutely in love with Mr. Montesinos. I was absolutely obsessed with Mr. Montesinos," Bozzo told the court.

"I've been detained three years unjustly. I never received one cent," said Bozzo. She faces up to seven years in prison and a maximum fine of 20 million Peruvian soles, the equivalent of about US$6 million, if convicted.

The balding, hawk-nosed Montesinos sat with his legs crossed in a corner of the special courtroom in the maximum security naval base prison where he has been held since his capture in Venezuela in June 2001.

"I can imagine how you will laugh at me," she told the court tribunal, "because the truth is, yes, I was in love. He absolutely never gave me the time of day."

The state's star witness, former Montesinos confidante Matilde Pinchi Pinchi, testified Friday that, on Montesinos' orders, she prepared five envelopes with US$10,000 each to give to Bozzo.

Pinchi Pinchi said she never actually handed the cash to the TV star, but that on one occasion she gave one of the envelopes to Montesinos to give to Bozzo in an adjoining office in the spy chief's headquarters. Montesinos later told her he had given Bozzo a total of US$3 million, Pinchi Pinchi testified.

She said Bozzo visited the intelligence service headquarters several times, "in the afternoons after her show, and evenings. Sometimes she even stayed to sleep overnight."

Bozzo insists her only crime was publicly singing Fujimori's praises in the lead-up to his victory to a third five-year term in 2000 -- condemned as fraudulent by international election monitors.

Bozzo maintains she is being persecuted because her program revealed that Fujimori's ultimately victorious opponent, President Alejandro Toledo, had an illegitimate teenage daughter. Over the course of her five-month trial, Bozzo has changed her story about the nature of her relationship with Montesinos.

"Yes, now I'm telling you this because I'm tired of not saying it," she said Friday, explaining why she now says she loves the former spy chief.

Montesinos, 59, has already been convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison on various charges, including paying millions to Peruvian TV executives, including Bozzo's former bosses. He refused to talk when he was called to testify about Bozzo last month.

He is also being tried for allegedly dealing arms to Colombian guerrillas, and faces pending charges for alleged drug trafficking and directing a paramilitary death squad.

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