Peru Coup Plot Unravels

LIMA -- A report about the suspected intentions of a Peruvian navy group to stage a coup d'etat has sparked controversy here and led the naval command to ratify Saturday its respect for democracy.

At a public appearance in Lima the Peruvian navy commander, Vice Adm. Rolando Navarrete, addressed the nation's president, Alan Garcia, assuring him of "the unrestricted respect for the constitutional order and the country's great interests" on the part of his branch of the armed forces.

He also reaffirmed the navy's commitment to "contributing to the country's development in that climate of peace and social order to which we as Peruvians aspire," according to a statement quoted by the official Andina news agency.

Last Wednesday, lawmaker Victor Garcia Belaunde reported that a naval group was planning a coup d'etat to put Peru's current vice president, ex-Vice Adm. Luis Giampietri, in power.

The legislator said he based his accusation on a supposed report by the United States Embassy in Peru, but hours later that diplomatic office issued a press release denying that any such document existed.

Garcia Belaunde's statement coincided with the delivery to the Attorney General's Office of more than 80 audio recordings concerning the ties of Romulo Leon, ex-minister in the first Alan Garcia administration (1985-90), with a scheme of government corruption in which members of the navy were implicated.

This corrupt scheme, intended to favor the Norwegian company Discover Petroleum in the awarding of oil-field blocks, ended last October with the nation's prime minister, Jorge del Castillo, leaving the Cabinet.

Judicial and legislative authorities opened several investigations into the case and since then new evidence has continued to surface.

In January the Business Track company was taken over that supposedly engaged in wiretapping and intercepting e-mails to do with the scheme, while three retired sailors and three on active duty were arrested for telephonic espionage.

The Peruvian press linked the company's general manager, retired Rear Adm. Elias Manuel Ponce Feijoo, with Vice President Giampietri, who was hospitalized Friday for coronary and kidney problems.

The Peruvian head of state backed his vice president and dismissed any connection with the acts of wiretapping.

President Garcia, who from the first moment has described the oil corruption scandal as a "tiny scandal," said Friday that behind the recordings was "a wish to destroy the political system."

He added that those implicated in the case want "the head of state to pick up the phone and talk to them. In that case they would have been able to bring down the whole political system." EFE