Peru is debating the pros and cons of fighting corruption through secret, illegal wiretaps. The practice, called chuponeo, gets results, but runs awfully close to the practices of Peru’s former dictators.
Chuponeo is what Peruvians name the practice of intercepting private conversations illegally. A huge debate about chuponeo has been taking place in Peru since the TV program Cuarto Poder disclosed a phone conversation where a senior politician confessed having been bribed. (See also, our full report on anti-corruption in Peru).
In a conversation with Alberto Quimpler — an executive at the national agency in charge of negotiating oil investments — a lobbyist named Rómulo León Alegría admitted having received almost US$100,000 dollars, allegedly to benefit the Norwegian company Discover Petroleum in the concession of hydrocarbons zones in Peru. (Discover Petroleum denied any wrongdoing.) As a result of the disclosure, Peru imprisoned León Alegría and Quimpler. The government suspended Discover Petroleum’s contracts.
But the genie was out of the bottle: soon other revelations based on recorded conversations trickled out in the media.
The recordings revealed by the media were taped by Business Track (BTR) — a 5-year-old company controlled by former Peruvian navy officials — which formally provided services to protect companies’ information and informally intervened private conversations related to “illegal businesses”.
According to Mario Vargas Llosa, writing in El Pais, this practice seems to be “dictatorship’s sequels” , a leftover from Fujimori’s regime. The head of the Peru’s intelligence service, Vladimiro Montensinos, generalized the use of chuponeo to track and intimidate opponents, and to extort politicians, military officers, officials and others engaged in illegal activities or even bribed by Fugimori’s government. Apparently, Business Track was created by former officers who were used to do this job during Fugimori’s rule and that found profitable to offer their services to the private sector. As a result of these disclosures, the Peruvian Prosecution has imprisoned six members of Business Track for illegally intervening private phone conversations.
This new case of chuponeo in Peru opens again a huge debate about which means should be used in order to disclose corruption.
Do positive results justify the use of illegal means? When do governments have the right to intercept peoples’ telephones, computers and other electronically devises? What should be the role of the media in dealing with this information?
Simple answers are hard to find; whistle blowers often have complex motives. What is clear is that private businesses (or governments) should not be allowed to employ these methods to coerce, intimidate or extort opponents and rivals. And in some cases, media groups might need to think hard about their role before encouraging these disclosures.
–Maria Daniela Araujo