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Fujimori sentenced in Perufor embezzlement

Peru Fujimori Trial
Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori looks on Monday in court in Lima where he was convicted of embezzlement.Karel Navarro / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison for embezzlement on Monday after he admitted illegally paying his spy chief $15 million in government funds.

Fujimori sat expressionless in front of the three-judge panel as the verdict and sentence were read. He told the court he would seek to nullify the ruling.

The conviction is the third in less than two years for the ex-leader. He was sentenced in April to 25 years in prison for authorizing military death squad activity during his 10-year rule. Previously, he was convicted of abuse of power and sentenced to six years for an illegal search.

Peruvian prison sentences do not accumulate, so 25 years is the maximum term the 70-year-old Fujimori can serve.

Last week, Fujimori acknowledged making the irregular payment to intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos, but he said he should not be held criminally responsible because he later repaid it with money found in the headquarters of Montesinos' feared agency.

By acknowledging the payoff, Fujimori avoided a drawn-out trial that could damage his daughter's candidacy for the 2011 presidential election. Keiko Fujimori has said she will pardon her father if she wins.

During a spirited defense on Friday that critics called a campaign speech for his daughter, Fujimori said he was obligated to make the payment to avoid a military coup plotted by Montesinos.

"The true judgment for me is that of the people, who have long absolved me in their hearts," Fujimori said.

The former president still enjoys some popularity for neutralizing Shining Path guerrillas that nearly toppled the government, but a series of recent trials have tied him to corruption and human rights abuses.

During his defense, Fujimori said his previous convictions and the embezzlement case were politically motivated, and he did not expect to find justice in court.

Presiding Judge Cesar San Martin opened the hearing on Monday by denying any political intent.

Fujimori faces yet another trial on allegations that he authorized illegal phone taps and congressional bribes and that he used state funds to purchase a TV station to air political propaganda.

Fujimori says money was repaid
As his government was collapsing in 2000 after a videotape surfaced showing Montesinos bribing a congressman, Fujimori signed an executive order transferring $15 million to the Defense Ministry to defend against a supposed incursion of Colombian rebels in Peru. The court ruled the money was handed over to Montesinos, who moved it to foreign bank accounts and fled for Panama.

Montesinos is now serving a 20-year term for bribing lawmakers and businessmen and selling weapons to Colombian rebels.

Prosecutors dispute Fujimori's claim that he found $15 million in Montesinos' intelligence agency 41 days after the illegal payoff and have called for a separate investigation.

The court also ruled that Fujimori must join three former Cabinet ministers in contributing to a $1 million reparations payment to the government.