From 1994 to 2002, Larry Kurlander was senior vice president and chief administrative officer for Newmont Mining. Kurlander first became actively involved in the Yanacocha dispute in September 1997 when, he said, Newmont CEO Ron Cambre called him and was "extremely worried about what was happening" in Peru and about what he saw as "untoward influence" being applied by the French government. Cambre instructed Kurlander to go to Peru to find out why the case, which everyone thought was over, was now in danger of being re-opened. Over the course of the next 10 months, Kurlander would make 18 trips in and out of Peru, shuttling between Lima, his headquarters in Denver and Washington, D.C.
Later, armed with what he saw as growing evidence of inappropriate behavior in Peru on the part of the French government, and with the backing of the U.S. Embassy in Peru, Kurlander headed to Washington, D.C., to mobilize support at the State Department and to tell his story to "anyone else who would listen." He insists he was not asking for anybody to "intervene" on Newmont's behalf. "I was asking them to stop the French from doing what they were doing. Period."
The French, he says, were trying to influence Peru's judicial process in an effort to reverse Newmont's victories and retain their share in the mine. That influence included a letter from French President Jacques Chirac directly to Peru's then-President Alberto Fujimori. Kurlander, in turn, approached the Clinton White House. He spoke there with Ted Piccone of the National Security Council, who told FRONTLINE/World that the White House rebuffed Newmont's requests to intervene. "The issue at that time in Peru's democratic transition was whether it was appropriate for the White House to be interfering with the judicial process," Piccone recalled, "and the judgment at the time was that it wasn't appropriate."
Newmont was getting a much more sympathetic hearing at the State Department, where a former ambassador to Ecuador, Peter Romero, who was the Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, had become involved. Romero said in an interview with FRONTLINE/World that in addition to the evidence that Kurlander and other Newmont representatives presented, it was the letter from President Chirac, along with other French intervention reported by the U.S. ambassador to Peru that caused the State Department to intervene.
On February 26, 1998, after conferring with his bosses in Denver and with Newmont's Peruvian partner Buenaventura, Kurlander headed for intelligence headquarters to meet with spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos. It was a meeting Kurlander says was approved by his headquarters and his Peruvian partners and recommended by the State Department. "If the French were to be stopped," Kurlander said he was told, "he [Montesinos] was the only one in Peru who would dare to do it."
Although Kurlander said that he was aware that Montesinos "could be terribly ruthless" and described him as an "extremely bad man," he maintained that stories about the extent of the corruption in the Fujimori regime were not common in 1998.
But whether it was common knowledge or not that Montesinos was corrupt and brutal, the meeting raised a question that should not have been lost on a lawyer and former New York state prosecutor like Kurlander: Why would he meet with the head of intelligence about a case that was pending in a country's top court?
Kurlander insisted that all he wanted to do was "level the playing field." He denied that any money was paid to get Mr. Montesinos to meet and act on Newmont's behalf.
According to Kurlander, he entered the headquarters of the SIN building -- which was protected by checkpoints and located within a large military base -- with the assumption that what happened that day in that building would remain there. He was wrong.
Walking into what he remembers as a non-descript room with a sitting area and a conference table at one end, he was greeted by an American-born lawyer named Grace Riggs. She would be the interpreter for this unusual meeting.
What Kurlander did not know, and said he did not suspect, was that the meeting was being recorded by Montesinos.
Kurlander insisted that all he wanted to do was "level the playing field." He denied that any money was paid to get Montesinos to meet and act on Newmont's behalf.
Kurlander told FRONTLINE/World that when he got to review a transcript of the recording years later, he was sure that "some things were left out," especially any reference to statements he said he made a number of times to the effect that all he and Newmont Mining wanted to do was "level the playing field."