Introduction by Lowell Bergman
Taping yourself and your guests for posterity -- or for more nefarious reasons -- has often come back to haunt those who did the taping. When President Richard M. Nixon did it, for example, it helped force him from office. Secret recordings had a similar unintended consequence in Peru in 2000 when copies of videotapes made by President Alberto Fujimori's closest confidante, Vladimiro Montesinos, were first broadcast on Peruvian television.
In his role as Fujimori's special "consultant" and the de facto commander of Peru's army and intelligence agencies, Montesinos was seen in these tapes paying off politicians, making business deals, and fixing a national election. The reaction to the tapes was swift -- within months, Fujimori's government had dissolved and both men had fled the country.
While serving as intelligence chief throughout the 1990s, Montesinos surreptitiously recorded thousands of hours of video and audio, which became known in Peru as the "Vladivideos." Guests he received at the National Intelligence Services (SIN) headquarters in Lima became unwitting actors, oblivious to the fact that he was secretly recording their conversations as insurance and protection -- and that one day, their dealings with the spymaster might be called into question.
Many of these recordings are available through the Peruvian Congress, but almost none have been broadcast on national television in the United States or excerpted on the Web. There are rumors in Peru of an even larger collection of Montesinos tapes that remain hidden.
Some observers in Peru believe that Montesinos, who was arrested in 2001 and faces more than 70 criminal counts, is holding additional incriminating videos as a way to somehow circumnavigate sentencing.
The news that Fujimori may return from exile in Japan to run for president in 2006 has revived these rumors, suggesting the potential damage the Montesinos tapes could do to neutralize Fujimori's opposition.
We are posting excerpts from four of these secret recordings -- obtained by FRONTLINE/World -- which reveal how deeply involved Montesinos was in the protracted battle between French, Australian and American mining companies in the mid-to-late 1990s for control of Yanacocha, Peru's largest gold mine. The tapes record Montesinos meeting with one of the top executives from Newmont Mining Corporation of Denver, Colorado, and discussing Newmont's case with the CIA in Peru, as well as confirming his phone contacts with the U.S. State Department. These tapes offer a rare behind the scenes glimpse at how Montesinos did business and at the men who were willing to deal with him.
Lowell Bergman is an award-winning investigative reporter and correspondent/producer for FRONTLINE and The New York Times. For 14 years, he was a producer for CBS's 60 Minutes.
The reporting and writing for this Web feature was done as a project of the Investigative Journalism for Print and Television Seminar at the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, taught by Lowell Bergman and Rob Gunnison with the assistance of investigative reporter Marlena Telvick.
Additional reporting and research was done by Ali Berzon, Jennifer Dawson, Sarah Gordon, Tomo Geron, Chad Heeter, Joy Jia, Jeff Kearns, Natasha Norton, Emilia Pablo, Aaron Selverston, Marlena Telvick and Dave Tuller.
Our thanks to the Gruber Family Foundation for its support.