LIMA, Peru – A five-judge Supreme Court panel on Tuesday unanimously overturned the embezzlement conviction of imprisoned former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, who was charged with diverting $40 million from the military to pay for articles in sensationalist tabloids that maligned his political foes.
The verdict, which cannot be appealed, outraged human rights activists, who said it flew in the face of a mountain of evidence presented at the 2015 trial at which Fujimori was convicted and sentenced to eight years.
Fujimori remains incarcerated, serving 25-year sentences for corruption and for authorizing death squads during his 1990-2000 presidency. He is due for release in 2032, but his political movement won a majority in Congress in recent elections and his daughter Keiko lost the presidency by less than a half percentage point in a June runoff.
"It's a dangerous and very damaging verdict for the fight against corruption," human rights lawyer Carlos Rivera told Canal N television.
The judges ruled there was no evidence Fujimori had used public funds to pay for headlines in the so-called "chicha" newspapers, broadsheets aimed at the uneducated brimming with true crime tales and photos of unclothed women.
Yet Fujimori's own spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, was convicted in 2005 in the same case. He testified that Fujimori in some cases ordered up specific headlines to be used in the tabloid campaign, which occurred during the 2000 election.
A scandal set loose by the release of videos of Montesinos bribing congressmen toppled Fujimori that year and he faxed in his resignation from exile.
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Houston contributed to this report.