John McMillan (January 1951 – March 2007) was the Jonathan B. Lovel...
President Alberto Fujimori was the 62nd president of Peru from July...
Vladimiro Montesinos Torres was the man behind the curtain througho...
This could not be any more relevant today.
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Implicating himself in his own blackmail on others was a unique and...
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The importance of independent, unbiased media.
How to Subvert Democracy: Montesinos
in Peru
John McMillan and Pablo Zoido
eru has in place the full set of democratic mechanisms: a constitution,
opposition parties, regular elections, a presidential term limit, safeguards
for the independence of the judiciary, and a free press. In the 1990s, Peru
was run, in the name of President Alberto Fujimori, by its secret-police chief,
Vladimiro Montesinos Torres. In the course of exercising power, Montesinos
methodically bribed judges, politicians, and the news media. Montesinos kept
meticulous records of his transactions. He required those he bribed to sign con-
tracts detailing their obligations to him. He demanded written receipts for the
bribes. Strikingly, he had his illicit negotiations videotaped.
In what follows, we use Montesinos’s bribe receipts and videotapes to study the
breakdown of checks and balances. Montesinos and Fujimori maintained the
facade of democracy—the citizens voted, judges decided, the media reported—but
they drained its substance. We discuss how they went about undermining democ-
racy: the negotiation and enforcement of the secret deals, the workings of covert
Of the checks and balances that underpin democracy, which is the most
forceful? We use the bribe prices to quantify the checks and balances. The size of
the bribes indicates how much Montesinos was willing to pay to buy off those who
could have checked his power. The typical bribe paid to a television-channel owner
was about a hundred times larger than that paid to a politician, which was some-
what larger than that paid to a judge. One single television channel’s bribe was five
times larger than the total of the opposition politicians’ bribes. The strongest of the
checks and balances, by Montesinos’s revealed preference, was television.
John McMillan is Jonathan B. Lovelace Professor of Economics in the Graduate School
of Business, and Pablo Zoido is a researcher at the Institute for International Studies,
both at Stanford University, Stanford, California. Their e-mail addresses are and, respectively.
Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 18, Number 4—Fall 2004 —Pages 69–92
“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the
same hands,” said James Madison, “may justly be pronounced the very definition of
tyranny” (Hamilton, Madison and Jay, 1788 [1961], p. 301). The Fujimori regime,
by stealth, accumulated all of these powers, plus power over the news media.
Understanding how democratic institutions can be subverted—where the weak
points are and how the parts of the system interact with each other—might be
useful in designing governance systems elsewhere that are less corruptible. Mon-
tesinos’s bribes reveal which of the checks is the hardest to undermine.
Lies and Videotape
In 1990, Alberto Fujimori, a political novice, was elected president of Peru, a
country in turmoil. Economic mismanagement had brought hyperinflation and
negative growth. An insurgency driven by the Shining Path, a murderous band of
Maoist guerillas, would by its end bring 69,000 deaths.
Fujimori appointed Montesinos his advisor and head of the Servicio de Intelli-
gencia Nacional (the national intelligence service, with the apt acronym SIN).
Montesinos had had a checkered career. Starting out as an army officer, he had
been dishonorably discharged on charges of selling secret documents to the United
States; then in the 1980s he had been a lawyer for Colombian drug dealers. He
made good use of the connections he had forged in his time in the military,
obtaining his influence by serving as a bridge between a weak military and a weak
president, says Peruvian political analyst Umberto Jara (2003, p. 38). He was “the
nexus capable of uniting two weaknesses: an army that had lost its prestige because
of subversion and human rights violations, and a political unknown, absolutely
solitary, without a political organization or a social base.”
Montesinos used to boast that he could manipulate the president, reportedly
describing Fujimori as “completely malleable: he does nothing at all without my
knowing it.” After the regime fell, Fujimori claimed, implausibly, not to have known
what Montesinos had been doing in his name. “He provided me with information,
intelligence. Nobody imagined that, behind the scenes, he was working for him-
self.” A secret U.S. intelligence document, since declassified, reveals that, as early as
the first year of Fujimori’s presidency, retired Peruvian army generals had warned
U.S. intelligence officers about what they called the “extraordinary” situation that
“the intelligence apparatus is in effect running the state.”
The Fujimori government claimed two major early successes: ending the
terrorist insurrection and sparking economic growth. The Shining Path leader,
According to the 2003 report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Juan Forero, “Peru Report
Says 69,000 Died in 20 Years of Rebel War,” New York Times, August 29, 2003, p. A3). For an overview of
Peru in the 1990s, see McClintock and Vallas (2003).
The Montesinos quote is from Bowen and Holligan (2003, p. 127), and the Fujimori quote is from
David Pilling, “Peru’s Premier Suspect,” Financial Times, May 1, 2004. The U.S. intelligence report is at
70 Journal of Economic Perspectives
Abimael Guzma´n, was captured in 1992, and then thousands of his followers.
Economic reforms, with deregulation and privatization, brought an influx of
foreign investment. An anti-inflation program brought inflation down from over
7,000 percent in 1990 to 10 percent in 1995 (Marcus-Delgado and Tanaka, 2001,
p. 76). As a result, whereas from 1981 to 1990 annual growth had averaged
–1.2 percent, from 1991 to 2000, it averaged 4 percent.
With its antiterrorist and free-market stances, the Fujimori administration won
the support of the United States. The CIA viewed Montesinos as an ally, reportedly
paying him millions of dollars between 1990 and 2000 for his help, supposedly, in
the war on drugs. The Lima CIA station chief, in a 1998 letter to Montesinos,
expressed “admiration” for his “leadership, dedication, and professionalism”—
despite evidence that he was actually running drugs in collaboration with the
Colombian cartels.
“Fujimori was very popular,” noted Mario Vargas Llosa, the novelist who had
been the losing candidate for president in 1990. “Though dirty things were going
on—torture, killings and corruption— his image was of a strongman who would
defend people against the terrorists.”
In 1992, Fujimori mounted a coup against
his own government (autogolpe). After closing the Congress and suspending the
constitution, he decreed laws specifying harsh sentences for terrorists, trying some
of them in secret courts with the judges hooded to protect them from reprisals.
Democracy returned, at least superficially, with an election in 1995, which Fujimori
won. In May 2000, Fujimori won re-election to a third term. In order to run, he had
to persuade the Congress to override the term limit specified in the constitution.
The election was widely regarded as rigged.
Just three and a half months later, the government fell. The end came when
one of Montesinos’s videotapes was broadcast on television. Montesinos was seen
paying opposition congressman Alberto Kouri US$15,000 to switch sides and
support the president. Other videotapes subsequently were broadcast, becoming
Peru’s own distinctive form of reality television. The tapes, which came to be called
the vladivideos, revealed the breadth of Vladimiro Montesinos’s reach. They showed
him, for example, offering Alipio Montes de Oca, a Supreme Court Justice, the
presidency of the National Elections Board plus an extra US$10,000 monthly salary,
medical care and personal security; bribing Ernesto Gamarra, a member of a
congressional committee investigating Montesinos’s sources of money, to direct the
investigation away from Montesinos; and assuring the owner of Lucchetti, a Chilean
pasta company, of a favorable judgment in a legal dispute over the construction of
a factory.
Fujimori fled to Japan, from where he resigned the presidency by fax. He was
The letter is quoted in Bowen and Holligan (2003, p. 198). On the SIN-CIA connection, see Mc-
Clintock and Vallas (2003, pp. 57, 120); Karen DeYoung, “‘The Doctor’ Divided U.S. Officials,”
Washington Post, September 22, 2000, p. A1; Kevin G. Hall, “CIA Paid Millions to Montesinos,” Miami
Herald, August 31, 2001; Angel Paez, “CIA Gave at Least $10 Million to Peru’s Ex-Spymaster Montesinos,”
Center for Public Integrity,
Maya Jaggi, “Fiction and Hyper-Reality,” Guardian, March 16, 2002.
John McMillan and Pablo Zoido 71
indicted on charges not only of corruption but also murder, kidnapping and
narcotics trafficking, though Japan, having granted him asylum, rejected Peru’s
extradition requests. Montesinos was arrested in Venezuela and returned to Peru,
where he was tried and found guilty of “usurpation of authority” during his
government service, and faced more than 50 additional charges, including influ-
encing judges, overseeing Peru’s drugs trade and running death squads. Some
1,600 Peruvians faced criminal charges from having been in the Montesinos
Documenting Corruption
Montesinos time and again proclaimed himself a patriot. The videos show him
declaring he was driven to “bring peace back to the country” by ending terrorism
and drug trafficking. “Here we work for the national interest,” he told a television
executive. “I get nothing out of this; on the contrary, only hate, passions, intrigues,
and resentment. I do it because of my vocation of service to the nation.”
After he
was arrested, Peruvian investigators traced over US$200 million in his overseas bank
accounts. His patriotism, evidently, did not preclude enrichment.
The Lima prosecutor’s office now estimates that the Fujimori government
appropriated about US$600 million from Peru. That sum places Fujimori sixth in
a rogues’ gallery of head-of-state embezzlers, behind Indonesia’s Suharto, the
Philippines’ Marcos, Zaire’s Mobutu, Nigeria’s Abacha and Serbia’s Milosovic
(Transparency International, 2004, p. 13). Our focus is not on the corrupt money
raising, however, but the reverse, Montesinos as corrupter. Montesinos exploited
the avarice of others to evade democratic constraints. Bribery was a means of
control, a method for exercising power.
While it may seem peculiar that Montesinos videotaped his bribery, there is
logic to it. The tapes were his proof of the others’ complicity. He made sure the
videos recorded the bribe takers accepting his cash, as shown in Figure 1. One video
shows him pulling wads of bills from a plastic bag and putting them into a briefcase.
Another shows him counting the money: “And now comes the good stuff. One, two,
three, four, five, six.” His counterpart said, “Here there is a million. Better this
other little briefcase, no?” He replied, “Which one? No, no, this one is great
because you can close it....Youcankeep it as a gift. Look: one, two, three, four,
five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, a million. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine, ten, two million.” Montesinos told some people he was taping their
meetings. On one occasion he said, “It is already filmed.” On another, his inter-
locutor asked, “Do you have that recorded?” and he responded in the affirmative.
The tapes gave him a threat he could use against anyone who might turn against
Videos 1347-48, February 26, 1999 (Jochamowitz, 2002, p. 45).
The quotes are from Video 1349-50, February 26, 1999; Video 1780, undated (also in Jochamowitz,
2002, pp. 13, 24); Video 866, January 15, 1998 (Jochamowitz, 2002, p. 46); and Video 1312, January 12,
72 Journal of Economic Perspectives
him, though he could use this threat only if all collapsed. Also, the tapes gave him
the power to destroy the president, so Fujimori could not fire him.
An additional, more mundane reason for taping the meetings, probably, was
recordkeeping. Dealing with more than 1,600 people, Montesinos needed ways of
keeping track of who had been paid and what actions had been promised. Bribe
receipts, secret contracts and audiotapes served as records in addition to the
Our data consist of a price list: the amounts Montesinos paid to bribe judges,
politicians and the news media. It is rare to get data on bribery. We were able to
collect the data thanks to Montesinos’s documentation. Transcripts of some of the
videotapes and audiotapes, covering 66 of Montesinos’s meetings, are on the
Congress’s website.
From a Peruvian journalist we obtained some of Montesinos’s
bribe receipts, such as those in Figure 2. The political and judicial processes against
Montesinos and Fujimori have yielded further data. Congress formed several
investigative commissions, which held open hearings and produced extensive
reports. Montesinos himself participated in some of these hearings. The prosecu-
tors induced some Montesinos subordinates to betray their former boss in ex-
change for reduced sentences, and their revelations are in the congressional
reports. Also, some close collaborators of Montesinos and Fujimori have published
their own accounts of their experiences (Bresani, 2003; Bustamante, 2003). Since
data coming from the participants’ testimony are open to question, wherever
possible we used multiple sources for such data. Investigative journalists have
uncovered a great deal of information, presented in richly detailed articles in
Congress website:
Figure 1
Counting Out a Bribe
Montesinos counting out US$1.5 million for Jose´ Francisco Crousillat, the vice president of Ame´rica
Televisio´n, Channel 4 (from a vladivideo).
Source: Peruvian Congress, El Heraldo, Photo Archive.
How to Subvert Democracy: Montesinos in Peru 73
newspapers like La Repu´ blica, magazines like Caretas, and in books such as Bowen
and Holligan (2003). As a check on the published sources, we interviewed some
Fujimori-era officials, a former SIN agent, a member of Congress, some Peruvian
journalists and academics, and the two chief prosecutors at the trials of Montesinos
and his cronies. Our information, then, comes from a range of sources: congres-
sional reports, insiders’ testimony, journalists’ writings, our interviews, bribe re-
ceipts and the vladivideos themselves.
How many vladivideos were made remains a mystery. Initial reports suggested
there were about 2,000. From jail, Montesinos claimed, probably untruthfully, to
have more than 30,000. Many Peruvians believe that when Fujimori fled he took
several hundred. A room in Peru’s Congress houses more than 1,600, only a
fraction of which have been made public. It is impossible to obtain a complete
picture of what went on inside the SIN, but much has emerged as more videos have
become available and the judicial process has advanced.
Our data cover events in the final three years of the Fujimori regime, 1998 to
2000, when Montesinos’s main goal was to get Fujimori reelected for a third term.
Doing Secret Deals
Montesinos ran a massive covert operation. Thousands of transactions had to
be carried out in secrecy. How did he manage such a complex organization? “The
addiction to information is like the addiction to drugs,” Montesinos declared. “We
live on information. I need information.” He needed it to identify opportunities
and to ensure deals were kept. He tapped the telephones of both enemies and
allies. On a wall of his SIN office, 25 television screens showed scenes beamed live
Figure 2
Bribe Receipts
Typical receipts demanded by Montesinos. Left: a Supreme Court justice acknowledges being paid
US$10,000. Right: a member of the National Electoral Board acknowledges being paid US$15,000.
74 Journal of Economic Perspectives
from hidden cameras in the presidential palace, the Congress, the courts, down-
town Lima and the airport.
Although Montesinos sometimes required those he bribed to sign a contract
having the form of a legal document, as we will discuss, his contracting was probably
not enforceable by the courts. Peru’s civil code decrees invalid any contract that
goes against laws that support the public interest, and bribery is presumably against
the public interest. Moreover, Peru’s criminal code bars asociacio´n ilı´cita para
delinquir, or illicit association to commit an offense. (It was under this clause that,
after the Fujimori regime fell, some of those who took bribes from Montesinos were
prosecuted.) Lacking legal status, Montesinos’s contracts had to be self-enforcing.
How did he structure his deals so as to create incentives for his respondents to live
up to them?
His position as secret-police chief endowed Montesinos with some enforce-
ment muscle. However, he maintained that he tried to avoid using violence, as he
considered it too costly. For instance, rejecting a subordinate’s suggestion to use
death threats against television owner Baruch Ivcher, he said, “Remember why
Pinochet had his problems. We will not be so clumsy. And, besides, what’s the
purpose of ordering the death of anybody? This is madness.”
Montesinos ran
death squads, so this comment should be taken with a grain of salt. But the death
squads targeted mostly peasants and students, and perhaps he calculated that using
violence against prominent people could backfire. If he threatened someone,
others might become reluctant to transact with him. He had other methods for
enforcing agreements.
Montesinos used the shadow of the future to create incentives for those he
bribed. He commonly arranged his payments in monthly installments, under which
defection was less likely than with a large one-shot payment. The contracts he had
television-channel owners sign stipulated that payments were to be made monthly
and were to be backed by a letter of credit. As another example, he told a public
official to whom he had given a job, “Apart from the salary, that is ten or fifteen
thousand soles, I am going to give you $10,000 monthly. . . .You come here every
month, I give you a little envelope and that’s it. And then you do not have the
economic problem.”
Given the strength of Montesinos’s bargaining position, it might have been
expected that he would make take-it-or-leave-it demands to squeeze out all the
surplus, but he did not. The videotapes show him haggling with the bribe takers. An
example is his description to a crony of a negotiation with a congressman. “I said
five. No, he said, I can’t do anything with five, I spend it in a week. Twenty he wants
monthly. Now, I am not going to quibble, good, twenty then.”
Montesinos left
The quotes are from Videos 872-73, January 26, 1998, and Videos 1347-48, February 26, 1999
(Jochamowitz, 2002, p. 5). On the television screens: Bowen and Holligan (2003, p. 266).
Audio CD 1289, 129A-B, December 31,1998 (Jochamowitz, 2002, p. 45).
Videos 888-89, May 3, 1998 (Jochamowitz, 2002, p. 192).
Audio B-139 A-4, undated (Jochamowitz, 2002, p. 163).
John McMillan and Pablo Zoido 75
some surplus with the bribe takers, perhaps so they would have an incentive to go
on dealing with him.
The need for enforcement mechanisms was mitigated by one general feature
of all corrupt deals. The very fact that an illicit deal has been done makes both
parties dependent on each other, for either could denounce the other (Lamsdorff,
2002). Speaking of an opposition congressman, Montesinos said, “He is one of us,
brother, he is committed.” Referring to a member of the National Elections Board,
he affirmed: “Yes, he is with us. . . He has risked it a thousand times for us, a
thousand and one.”
Montesinos tried to pre-empt defection by cultivating camaraderie. “The im-
portant thing, brother, is that. . .we support each other,” he told a television
executive he was bribing. Such assertions recur in the vladivideos. “When one works
in a team, one does not work for oneself.” Something finer than self-interest united
them, he liked to say. “How do friends help friends?. . .They do not say: hey, I give
you this, so you do this.” Again: “Because you are my kind, there is a chemistry of
friendship.” We can only guess what the others must have made of such avowals
from this ruthless man. Some of them replied in kind, though. “I am absolutely
honest with you. My commitment is not of a monetary character but of friendship,”
said a newspaper executive whom Montesinos paid US$1 million.
The Wages of SIN
Montesinos had various sources for his bribe money. From 1990 to 2000, the
SIN budget, which was secret and unsupervised by the Congress, increased by more
than 50 times. By 2000, it was about US$1.5 million per month, of which about a
quarter went to operational costs and salaries, leaving about US$1.1 million for
Montesinos to spend. He was not required to justify how he spent it. In addition, he
received under-the-table sums via the Ministry of the Interior and the military,
shown in Table 1. By 2000, he was getting about US$750,000 per month in
unrecorded cash from these other government agencies. Further, he siphoned
money from state contracts. When he needed more, he requested contributions
from his accomplices in arms deals and other illegal businesses. According to his
bookkeeper, Matilde Pinchi Pinchi, in 2000, money was flowing into the SIN at a
rate of US$8 million to US$9 million per month (Bowen and Holligan, 2003,
pp. 272–273, 326–327; Rospigliosi, 2000, p. 201).
All the bribe prices in what follows are cited in U.S. dollars. In most cases, we
did not have to convert from Peruvian soles, because Montesinos actually paid in
dollars. One video shows him apologizing to the recipient of a bribe for paying in
soles, as he did not have dollars on hand.
Audio 352-A, undated, and Audio 1196, August 14, 1998.
The Montesinos quotes are from Video 1783, November 10, 1999; Video 1323-6, November 23, 1998;
Video 1492, April 21, 1999; and Videos 1291-92, January 5, 1999 (Jochamowitz, 2002, pp. 27, 47, 153).
The final quotation is from Eduardo Calmell, director of Expreso, on Video 1492, April 21, 1999.
76 Journal of Economic Perspectives
The bribe prices of politicians are in Table 2. The politicians’ bribes are mostly
between US$5,000 and US$20,000 per month. A congressman’s official monthly
pay, for comparison, was about US$4,500 plus US$4,500 for expenses in 1995
(Pollarolo, 2001). One outlier is Rodrı´guez Aguillar, who got US$50,000 per
month. According to Montesinos, “the conversations with the lady [Rodrı´guez]
were slower, they lasted about three weeks, because she is a difficult person and
because her husband, who is the mayor of Piura, was always counseling her.” The
bribe was higher than usual, it seems, because she bargained hard and because two
politicians came for the price of one. In addition to monthly payments, Montesinos
sometimes made one-time payments of up to US$100,000, calling them campaign
contributions, though since they came from the intelligence service they were
hardly conventional campaign money.
Bribes went not only to opposition congressmen, but also to Fujimori’s cabinet.
A prominent example is Federico Salas, Fujimori’s last prime minister, who con-
fessed to accepting an extra salary from Montesinos of US$30,000 per month.
While it may seem odd that Fujimori felt a need to pay off his own allies, perhaps
this came about because he had entered politics without a party and had to build
his own. Peru’s politics were driven less by ideology or policy than by distributional
The congressmen’s deals were consummated in April and May of 2000, during
the run-up to the presidential election. Montesinos made an initial payment
immediately upon signing, then monthly payments, the signing bonus usually
being the same amount as the monthly payment. These congressmen signed three
documents: a receipt for the bribe; a letter asking Fujimori to admit him or her into
Fujimori’s party, Peru´ 2000; and, on congressional letterhead paper, a compromiso de
honor (a promise on one’s honor, a gentleman’s agreement), an example of which,
in English translation, is shown as Figure 3. Congressman Mario Gonza´lez Inga
agrees to switch to Fujimori’s party for the duration of a congressional term,
promising to “directly receive instructions” from Montesinos.
Bribes going to judges are in Table 3. The sums going to judges are more
Table 1
Money Contributed to the SIN by Other Public Agencies
(in millions of U.S. dollars)
1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 Total
Ministry of Interior 3.0 2.7 2.7 2.4 2.3 2.0 1.8 1.4 18.4
Ministry of Defense 4.4 6.0 4.4 4.3 3.9 3.6 3.3 2.8 7.7 40.4
Peruvian Marines 0.3 0.3
Peruvian Air Force 0.3 0.3
Peruvian Army 0.5 1.3 1.1 1.4 1.8 1.0 7.2
Total 4.4 9.1 8.2 8.2 7.4 7.3 7.1 5.6 9.1 66.5
Source: Presented by Colonel Jose Villalobos Candela, Administrative Director of the SIN in 2000, during
his deposition on October 19, 2002, to the investigative congressional commission. Informe Final de la
Subcomisio´n Investigadora de la Denuncia Constitucional No. 6; Available at
How to Subvert Democracy: Montesinos in Peru 77
Table 2
Political Capture
(Presidential candidate)
(Monthly) Favors
Those who changed their party for Peru 2000 (Fujimori’s party)
Jose´ Luis Ca´ceres Vela´squez FREPAP (Ataucusi) US$20,000 (*) US$50,000 (one-time)
US$100,000 (one-time) Judicial
Ro´ger Ca´ceres Pe´rez FREPAP (Ataucusi) US$20,000
Ruby Rodrı´guez de Aguilar APRA (Salinas) US$50,000 Judicial favors for her husband
Jorge Polack Merel PSN (Castan˜eda) ** Vice President of the Foreign Relations
Commission in Congress
Juan Carlos Miguel
Mendoza del Solar
PSN (Castan˜eda) US$10,000
Gregorio Ticona Go´mez PP (Toledo) US$10,000 US$15,000 (signing bonus)
US$20,000 (car) US$3,000
(apartment). Land deal in Titicaca
Lake that would insure his reelection
Jose´ Luis Elı´as A
valos A (Salas) US$15,000 US$40,000 (“campaign
reimbursement”) US$60,000
(continue campaigning)
Antonio Palomo Orefice PP (Toledo) US$20,000
Mario Gonza´les Inga PP (Toledo) US$20,000
Alberto Kouri PP (Toledo) US$15,000
Edilberto Canales Pillaca PP (Toledo) Judicial favors, Apparently no payment
Eduardo Farah PSN (Castan˜eda)
Those who did not change their party (informants or moles)
Jorque D’Acunha Cuervas PP (Toledo) US$10,000
Waldo Enrique ´os
FIM (Olivera) US$10,000 (one time payment)
Judicial help with the National
Electoral Board
Maria del Milagro Huama´n PP (Toledo) US$30,000
Jose´ Leo´ n Luna Ga´lvez PSN (Castan˜eda) US$7,000
Guido Pennano Allison FIM (Olivera) US$15,000 (US$30,000 Pinchi) US$20,000 (car)
Members of Fujimori’s party
Rolando Rea´tegui P00 US$3,000
Luz Salgado P00 US$20,000
Carmen Lozada de Gamboa P00 US$20,000
Manuel Vara Ochoa P00 US$20,000
Martha Chavez Cossı´o de
P00 US$20,000
Sobero Taira P00 US$20,000
Members of the executive
Victor Joy Way Prime Minister US$10,000
Federico Salas Prime Minister US$30,000
Alberto Bustamante Minister of Justice US$5,000
Sources: Informe Final de la Subcomisio´n Investigadora de la Denuncia Constitucional No. 6; Available at http://, Public deposition of Mon-
tesinos before this commission; Available at
estrada.htm, the transcript of the first video, where Montesinos hands US$15,000 to Kouri is at La Repu´ blica,
15 September 2000, the source of Federico Salas confession is El Comercio; Available at http://www.elcomercioperu.
Notes: Party affiliations are Frente Popular Agrı´cola del Peru´ (FREPAP), Partido Aprista (APRA), Peru´ Posible (PP),
Avancemos (A), Frente Independiente Moralizador (FIM), Partido Solidaridad Nacional (PSN), Peru´ 2000 (P00).
Payments are monthly unless otherwise stated.
(*)The source of this number is Matilde Pinchi Pinchi, Montesinos’s bookkeeper, not Montesinos.
(**) Pinchi also claims that Polack received three payments on the amounts of US$80,000, US$250,000 and
US$160,000. When Montesinos was asked about this, he did not deny it, but asked to be allowed not to talk
about it in public because it concerned a “private matter.”
78 Journal of Economic Perspectives
uncertain than for politicians and the media, for our data are incomplete. The
numbers in the first column of bribe data in Table 3 show aggregates of an
unknown number of payments, the frequency with which the judges were paid is
unclear, though in one case, that of Montes de Oca, there is video evidence that he
received a US$10,000 payment monthly.
The numbers in the second column of
bribe data in Table 3 come from receipts such as those in Figure 2. Our best guess
is that the judges’ payments were made monthly, as was the case for the politicians
and the news media executives, and that the second column of bribe data shows
monthly payments. The judges’ bribes tend to be lower than the politicians’. The
bribe price for Supreme Court and Superior Court judges is mostly US$5,000 to
US$10,000 per month, two or three times their official salaries.
Bribes of the news media are in Table 4. The director of Expreso, a broadsheet
newspaper, received US$1 million in two payments three weeks apart, ostensibly so
he could buy a controlling block of the company’s shares. El ´o, a tabloid
newspaper, was paid a reported total of US$1.5 million over two years (or roughly
US$60,000 per month), under an incentive contract based on content: US$3,000 to
US$4,000 for a front-page headline, US$5,000 for a full-page article, US$500 for a
shorter article. Other tabloids like El Chato, El Chino, La Chuchi, El Man˜anero and El
Diario Ma´s, according to Conaghan (2002, p. 118), received similar deals.
Among television channels, one (Channel 7) was state owned, and Montesinos
had control over its content. The five private television broadcasters, Channels 2, 4,
Videos 888 and 889, May 3, 1998 (Jochamowitz, 2002, p. 192).
Figure 3
Example of a Compromiso de Honor
The subscriber of this document, Gonza´lez Inga, Mario, elected as Con-
gressman of the Republic in the recent general elections, with the present
document irrevocably renounces membership of the political party Peru´
Posible, in whose list I participated as a candidate; and therein I recover my
political independence, committing to support the political party Peru´ 2000,
which I join for the five years of duration of my congressional duties. I will act
in close collaboration with the bearer of this document, from whom I will
directly receive instructions about these particulars.
In faith of which and as an expression of the Commitment of Honor that
I voluntarily assume as of now, I subscribe in the city of Lima, the twenty-
second day of April of the year 2000.
(Signed) Mario Gonza´lez Inga
Source: Informe Final de la Subcomision Investigadora de la Denuncia Constitucional No. 6;
Available at
John McMillan and Pablo Zoido 79
Table 3
Judicial Capture
Position Name
Bribe data
(Bresani) Bribe receipts
General Manager of the Judicial
Ricardo Mendoza Torres
(Montesinos’ cousin)
US$55,000 US$10,000
Justice in the National Elections
Alipio Montes de Oca US$50,000 US$15,000
Justice in the National Elections
Luis Serpa Segura US$45,000 US$10,000
President of the Supreme Court Victor Raul Castillo Castillo US$35,000 US$10,000
Supreme Justice Luis Ortiz Bernardini US$25,000 US$10,000
President of the Superior Court Pedro Infantes Mandujano US$24,000 US$5,000
Superior Justice Raul Lorenzzi Goicochea US$25,000
Justice in the Appeals Court William Paco Castillo Castillo US$16,000 US$10,000
Supreme Justice, Provisional Alejandro Rodrı´guez Medrano US$10,000 US$5,000
Supreme Justice Carlos Saponara Miligan US$10,000 US$5,000
Superior Justice in a local Court Daniel Bedrinana Garcia US$2,500
Judge Percy Escobar Lino US$10,000 US$5,000
Judge Fernando Aguirre Infante US$10,000
Judge Manuel Ruiz Cueto US$6,000
Judge William Ardiles Campos US$3,000
Judge Victor Martı´nez Candela US$3,000
Judge Sonia Pineda US$2,500
Judge Alminda Lopez Pizarro US$2,500
Judge Willy Herrera Casina US$2,500
Judge Nicolas Trujillo Lo´pez (Ivcher case) US$5,000
President of the Public Law Court Sixto Mun˜oz Sarmiento (Lucchetti
and Ivcher cases)
Others involved but without data on bribes:
Supreme Court Justices: Orestes Castellares Camac, Eliana Salinas de Alencastre, Jorge Gonza´les
Campos, Arturo Chocano Polanco, Jose Pariona Pastrana, Carlos Alarcon del Portal, Wilber
Villafuerte Mogollo´n, Juan Quespe Alcala´, Luis Castro Reyes, Carlos Henriquez Colfer, Juan
Miguel Ramos Lorenzo.
Judges: Segundo Sarria´ Carbajo, Carlos Alca´ntara Pera´z, Karina Sa´nchez Alarcon, Ricardo Nun˜ez
Espinoza, Arturo Vilchez Requejo, Jose ´os Olson.
Source: Bresani (2003) and author calculations. The list of the others involved come from Bresani (2003)
and has been confirmed by several journalistic reports.
Note: The data in the first column of bribes are from Bresani (2003). The second column of bribe data
is from a set of receipts like those in Figure 1 that we collected from journalistic sources in Peru. From
the information available, the frequency of these payments is unclear. It is probable that the data in
Bresani (2003) aggregate the receipts, but Bresani gives no reference for these data.
80 Journal of Economic Perspectives
Table 4
Media Capture
TV channels Bribe estimates
America Television (Channel 4) Jose
Francisco Crousillat
US$9,000,000 in a signed contract for US$1,500,000 per
month from November 1999 to April 2000, possibly
more (C)
US$619,000 in October 1998, promised more monthly
payments (C) (BH)
Frequencia Latina (Channel 2) Samuel
and Mendel Winter (owners after
Baruch Ivcher exiled)
US$3,000,000 in a signed contract for US$500,000 per
month from November 1999 to April 2000, possibly
more (R)
US$3,073,407 on December 1999 for an increase of capital
that gave 27 percent of shares to Montesinos (R)
Panamericanan Television (Channel 5)
Manuel Delgado Parker (brother of
Genaro) and Ernest Schutz
US$9,000,000 contract agreed by Shutz and Montesinos on
video 1783. In total Montesinos claims he handed
$10,600,000 to Schutz (BH)
US$350,000 handed by Montesinos to Shutz, video
screened by congress on October 2, 2001 (BH)
Cable Canal De Noticias CCN (Cable
Channel Network) Vicente Silva
Checa (Video 1778)
US$2,000,000 for his shares in the CCN to the Ministry of
Defense in November 1999 (C)
Andina de Televisio´n (ATV) (Channel 9)
Julio Vera
US$50,000 to fire Cecilia Valenzuela and Luis Iberico (C)
Red Global (Channel 13) Genaro
Delgado Parker (brother of Manuel)
In exchange business help and judicial favors, Delgado
Parker fired popular commentator Cesar Hidelbrandt
Print media Bribe estimates
Expreso (mainstream newspaper)
Eduardo Calmell del Solar (director
and stockholder)
US$1,000,000 in two installments, to buy shares in the
newspaper (C) and videos 1492, 1736, 1753
El ´o, (Chicha/popular press) Jose
Olaya Correa (owner and director)
US$1,500,000 between 1998 and 2000 (C)
US$3,000–US$4,000 per headline, US$5,000 for full
coverage inside, US$500 for smaller stories (C)
La Chuchi (Chicha/popular press)
Oliveri and Estenos (owners)
US$8,000 weekly, same press house as El Man˜anero,
Editora Americana (B)
El Chato, Rafael Document (founder)
and Ruben Gamarra (director) out
US$1,000 each time it comes, small circulation, only
comes out two to three days a week (B)
Media not captured Newspapers: La Repu´ blica and El Comercio
Magazine: Caretas
Cable News TV Channel: Canal N (owned by El
State-owned media Newspaper: El Peruano
TV Channel: Televisio´n Nacional Peruana
Radio Station: Radio Nacional
Sources: (B) Bresani (2003), (BH) Bowen and Holligan (2003), (C) Conaghan (2002), (R) La Repu´ blica,
February 24, 2001.
How to Subvert Democracy: Montesinos in Peru 81
5, 9 and 13, and a cable service, CCN, were bought off. One television channel
alone was not bribed: the other cable outlet Channel N. Its monthly fee put it
outside the budget of most Peruvians, however, and its subscribers numbered only
in the tens of thousands (Bowen and Holligan, 2003, pp. 332–337).
Channel 4, with the largest viewership, got US$1.5 million per month in bribes.
Channel 2 received US$500,000 per month, and Channel 5 a similar sum. The
other two channels, with smaller viewerships, received payoffs via share purchases
and other business deals and judicial favors.
The television owners signed written contracts. In the contract between Mon-
tesinos and Channel 2, for example, Montesinos purchases full control over news
broadcasts for a monthly payment of US$500,000.
The contract has the form of
a legal document. Montesinos, who held the sole copy, is not named, but just called
“the Contractor.” The contract adds that this “does not however nullify the legal
value of this document.” At the start of each month, Montesinos is to pay Channel
2 its half-million dollars. At the same time, the channel is to give him a letter of
credit equal to this amount, which he will destroy after the channel fulfils its duties.
If he is late with a payment, he incurs a penalty of 1 percent per day, rising to
5 percent after seven days. If the channel ever fails to act as agreed, Montesinos may
resolve the matter without the channel “having any right to complain in any way.”
Montesinos’s contractual duties include, “To do whatever else is necessary.” The
channel agrees to allow Montesinos to review each day’s news programs before they
air and not to broadcast anything about presidential or congressional candidates,
or any program referring “explicitly or implicitly to political issues,” without Mon-
tesinos’s written approval.
How much did Montesinos pay in total? The cost of bribing the politicians to
get a majority in Congress added up to less than US$300,000 per month. The total
cost of bribing judges (at a guess, because we do not have complete data for judges)
was US$250,000 per month.
The total cost of bribing the television channels was
more than US$3 million per month. Television was the priciest of the checks by an
order of magnitude.
Montesinos’s Control
The videos show Montesinos boasting of his control of the media (and even
exaggerating the amount he was paying). “Each channel takes $2 million monthly,
but it is the only way. That is why we have won, because we have sacrificed in this
way.” Talking to some associates about the television owners, he said, “We have
The full contract in English translation is at
page/articles.html. The original is in La Repu´ blica, February 24, 2001.
The judges’ total is arrived at as follows: Adding the monthly totals from the last column of Table 3,
we get about US$100,000. We lack data for 11 other Supreme Court judges and 15 ordinary judges who
(according to Bresani, 2003) were bribed. If we assume the missing Supreme Court judges got the about
same bribes as those for whom we have data and the ordinary judges got US$3,000 a month (probably
an overestimate), the total rises to about US$250,000.
82 Journal of Economic Perspectives
made them sign on paper and all. Now we are playing with something very serious.
They are all lined up. Every day at 12:30 pm I have a meeting with them. . .and we
plan what is going to be aired in the evening news.” He told one of the television
owners that he carefully monitored the news broadcasts 24 hours a day. “I measure
the time and I monitor the characters and at the end I summarize the day: how
much they devoted to this activity, how much to that, how much in favor, how much
against.” He even offered one of the television channels a team of SIN agents who
could work for it as an “investigative unit.”
Montesinos devoted considerable
resources to controlling the media, his own time and SIN manpower, providing
further evidence of how important he saw the media to be.
The cash payments underestimate Montesinos’s bribes, for he channeled extra
money to the newspapers and television by means of government advertising. The
state became Peru’s biggest advertiser, with spending increasing by 52 percent from
1997 to 1999. Also, in 1999, the government permitted media outlets with out-
standing taxes to work off their tax obligations by carrying free advertisements for
the government health agency. In addition, companies with which Montesinos had
side deals were asked to advertise in particular media outlets as a way of supporting
Fujimori’s reelection (Bresani, 2003; Degregori, 2000; Schmidt, 2001).
Cash was not all that Montesinos used to sway people. Favors were common:
promotions, judicial string-pulling, support in election campaigns and congres-
sional votes (Moreno Ocampo, 2003). Sometimes what was exchanged was a mere
promise of undefined future favors. After agreeing to a request from a television-
channel owner, for example, Montesinos said, “You give me the difficult tasks.” His
interlocutor replied, “But, of course, in return I am at your disposal for anything
you like.”
The television channels received various favors. Montesinos helped Channel 5
maneuver a difficult lawsuit by interceding with the judiciary. To support the owner
of the cable channel CCN, he arranged the purchase of shares in his company by
the military police pension fund. He arranged a complex deal involving Channel 2,
Channel 4 and Peru’s second-largest bank, Wiese Sudameris Bank. The two chan-
nels owed the bank about US$13 million. Montesinos persuaded the bank’s man-
aging director to refinance their debts. In return, he resolved a tax problem for the
Judges and politicians also got noncash bribes, such as a car or a house. A
judge on the National Elections Board, Ro´mulo Mun˜oz Arce, negotiated jobs for
his wife and son as well as payment for his daughter’s education in the United
States. Montesinos threw in a first-class airfare for her, exclaiming, when the judge
remarked on this, “First class? Of course I wouldn’t send her coach!”
The military were under Montesinos’s control. He had charge of promotions
and so was able to use promotion as a cashless form of bribery. He made sure that
Quotes from Video 1792, November 26, 1999 (Jochamowitz, 2002, p. 17); Audio 1736, September 14,
1999; Videos 1677-79 August 25, 1999 (Jochamowitz, 2002, p. 49); and Audio B-139, undated.
Audio 896, January 20, 1998, and Video 1790, November 10, 1999.
Video 1318, November 11, 1998.
John McMillan and Pablo Zoido 83
only those loyal to him reached the top ranks. According to Daniel Mora, a general
whom he forced into early retirement, he “promoted not the brightest and the best,
but the mediocre and the weak.” By 2000, Montesinos appointees held all 17 of the
top military posts. Of these, 13 had been his classmates as cadets in Peru’s military
academy, one was a close associate from the SIN, and one was his brother-in-law.
“With the armed forces we are doing great,” he told a banker in 1999. “Now their
morale is high, you see, our team is consolidated.”
Montesinos exerted control not only by bribery, but sometimes by blackmail.
He would obtain video proof of sexual indiscretions and use these tapes for
persuasion. Some were filmed in a brothel where SIN agents had installed hidden
cameras. Military officers were reportedly among those he blackmailed in this
(After he was imprisoned, the judges handed dozens of these videos over to
the Roman Catholic Church, to be returned to those featured in them.)
Montesinos did not control everything. The one unbribed television channel,
the small cable outlet Channel N, continued to offer independent investigative
journalism. As it turned out, it was on this channel that the Kouri videotape that
brought everything down was first aired. Some newspapers like La Repu´ blica and El
Comercio and some magazines like Caretas courageously continued to criticize the
government despite being harassed, reporting for example on abuses in the lead-up
to the 2000 election. The harassment ranged from libel suits to arbitrary detention
to death threats. In an attempt to discredit any journalists who dared investigate the
government, the tabloids carried hundreds of stories defaming them with bizarre
labels: “a mental midget,” “a she devil,” “undercover terrorist,” “paid coup provo-
cateur.” A headline in El Chino proclaimed three journalists “the rabid animals of
the anti-Peruvian press.”
While the tabloids read by the majority of Peruvians were mostly under
Montesinos’s control, it was the more educated and affluent Peruvians who read
the independent newspapers and magazines. Montesinos seems to have decided
these outlets were not influential enough to be worth bribing. A vladivideo shows
him saying he was unconcerned. “What do I care about El Comercio? They have an
80,000 print run. 80,000 newspapers is shit. What worries me is Channel 4....It
reaches 2 million people....La Repu´ blica can do whatever they want. What is a
20,000 print run?” Also, the owners of El Comercio may have placed so high a value
on their reputation as to be incorruptible. Unlike some of the other news outlets,
El Comercio was in sound financial health. Founded in 1839, it had been controlled
since 1898 by one family, the Miro´ Quesadas. A Montesinos crony once joked: “You
want a paper like El Comercio? I will make you El Comercio. You give me the money
Jane Holligan, “Will the Army Upset a Delicate Balance in Peru?” Business Week, November 3, 2000;
Rospigliosi (2000); Video 1583, June 22, 1999 (Jochamowitz, 2002, p. 149).
Roger Scrutton, “Peru Bishops to Get Custody of ‘Intimate’ Spy Tapes,” Reuters, February 21, 2001.
On harassment of journalists: Conaghan (2002, p. 116), Schmidt (2001, pp. 2–3). On tabloid slanders:
Jorge Salazar Cussia´novich, “The ‘Devils’ of the Peruvian Press,” Pulso del Periodismo, September 12, 1999,
84 Journal of Economic Perspectives
and you give me 125 years.”
El Comercio owned Channel N, the television channel
that Montesinos left unbribed.
As a last resort, Montesinos had the option of silencing a television channel if
it refused to fall into line. He did it once, and the episode is revealing. The
second-largest channel, Frecuencia Latina, or Channel 2, was majority owned by
Baruch Ivcher, a naturalized Peruvian citizen of Israeli origin. After initially being
loyal to the government, in 1997, the channel began broadcasting investigative
reports: one on SIN agents being tortured for talking about SIN to the press;
another on Montesinos’s tax returns, showing his income far exceeded his govern-
ment salary. In retaliation, the Interior Ministry stripped Ivcher of his citizenship.
As a noncitizen he was not permitted, by law, to own a television channel. A tame
judge assigned the channel’s ownership to minority shareholders beholden to
Montesinos. Thereafter, Frecuencia Latina broadcast Fujimori propaganda. Ivcher
later told a reporter that, six months before being stripped of his citizenship, he
had been offered and declined a US$19 million bribe, in return for which the
government would have had veto over the content of news programs.
The Ivcher episode shows the severity with which Montesinos punished defec-
tion. Ivcher lost his citizenship, his company and much of his wealth. The episode
shows, also, that retribution was costly to the government. Ivcher’s harassment
prompted noisy demonstrations in Lima. The Peruvian Bishop’s Conference de-
nounced Ivcher’s citizenship revocation as “illegal and dangerous.” Overseas, as
well, there was fallout. The U.S. House of Representatives, citing the Ivcher case,
issued a resolution condemning Peru’s interference with the freedom of the press.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights held a hearing on the Ivcher case, after
which Fujimori withdrew Peru from the court’s jurisdiction. Fujimori bore some
costs to silence a television channel, and thus the television channels had bargain-
ing power.
Why Television?
The institutions of democracy form a system of incentives, shaping and con-
straining the government’s behavior. Most analyses of the checks and balances
examine them separately: elections (Maskin and Tirole, 2004), political parties
(Persson, Roland and Tabellini, 1997), the judiciary (La Porta, Lopez-de-Silanes,
Pop-Eleches and Shleifer, 2004) and the news media (Besley and Prat, 2001;
Djankov et al., 2003). The parts of the system interact, however. A pair of gover-
nance mechanisms may be complementary, in the sense that one works better when
the other is in place, or strengthening one increases the marginal effectiveness of
the other (Milgrom and Roberts, 1990). Opposition politicians are more potent,
for example, the freer the press. The checks and balances reinforce each other.
Video 1318, November 11, 1998, and Videos 1459 and 1460, April 7, 1999.
Tyler Bridges, “Peruvian Broadcaster Returns from Exile, Fights for TV Station,” Miami Herald, March
30, 2002.
How to Subvert Democracy: Montesinos in Peru 85
Conversely, the absence of one check impairs the others. Without judicial
independence, the media are weakened. For example, a compliant judge aided the
clampdown on the media when he ratified the expropriation of Ivcher’s television
channel. Without judicial independence, also, political competition is enfeebled.
For example, the judges on the National Elections Board overrode the constitution
to allow Fujimori to stand for a third term. Without political competition, judicial
independence is at risk. For example, upon suspending Congress in the 1992
self-coup, Fujimori was able to gain control over the judges. With the news media
compromised, political competition is enfeebled. A vladivideo shows Montesinos
speaking of a press conference of opposition presidential candidate Alberto An-
drade: “No television channel aired the press conference. It never existed.”
This chain of complementarities means that checks and balances form a
package. If one is weak, all are weak. In this sense, each of the checks is vital.
Nevertheless, the bribes differed, the news media, and in particular television,
being the most expensive check to undermine. In this sense, television was the
crucial constraint.
The newspapers’ bribes, while higher than those of judges and politicians,
were lower than television’s. Why was Montesinos less concerned about the print
media than television? The difference is in their reach. Television is where most
Peruvians get their news. Television aerials sprout from the poorest of Lima’s
shanty towns, with 95 percent of Lima households owning a television set. The
largest-selling newspapers, by contrast, were the serious El Comercio, with a reader-
ship of some 600,000, and the sensationalist Ojo, with 300,000 (Schmidt, 2001,
p. 13). These readers were a small fraction of broadcast-television viewership, which
included most of Peru’s 28 million people.
Why were the television owners more expensive to bribe than the politicians
and judges? A straightforward explanation is simply that they were richer. The
judges’ bribes were one-and-a-half times to four times their official salaries. The
politicians’ bribes were multiples of their official income. By contrast, a few thou-
sand dollars a month may not have impressed a wealthy television-channel owner.
However, this does not seem to be the complete explanation. The television
channels (which were privately owned and closely held) were heavily indebted, and
this is said to be the reason their owners were ready to accept Montesinos’s bribes
(Conaghan, 2002). Had they been more financially secure, they may have been
even harder to bribe.
The explanation for why television is different must go deeper. We offer two
complementary explanations. First, a television channel has holdup power in a way
that a politician or a judge does not. Second, television is part of a constraining
mechanism that is more fundamental than the politicians or the judiciary.
To form a winning coalition in the Congress, Montesinos had to bribe only
some of the opposition politicians. The Congress has 120 members. In 2000,
Fujimori’s party Peru´ 2000 won 51 seats. Fujimori thus needed ten more votes for
a bare majority. Montesinos bribed twelve congressmen to change parties and join
Fujimori’s, so he had two more than the minimum he needed for a majority. He did
not stop there, however. He bought five more congressmen, but asked them not to
86 Journal of Economic Perspectives
switch but instead to remain in their own parties and act as his secret informants.
Montesinos had calculated, evidently, that he needed to buy only 17 of the 69
opposition congressmen.
Similarly, Montesinos had to bribe only some of the judges. In 1995, Fujimori
had enacted what he called judicial “reform,” which reduced judicial independence
by setting up “provisional” judges, who could be dismissed by the government. By
1997, 73 percent of the judiciary had been shifted to provisional status (Herna´ndez
Bren˜a, 2003). The lack of secure tenure made these judges susceptible to pressure.
In the lower courts, Montesinos had some power to allocate judges to cases, so he
could assign a friendly judge to a sensitive case (Garcı´a Caldero´n, 2001, p. 49;
World Bank, 2001, paragraph 8-22). In the Supreme Court, decisions are made by
majority vote, so three of the five Supreme Court judges were enough.
Why did the remaining honest judges not expose the corrupt ones? Again, it
comes down to the interlinkages among the checks and balances. With the news
media captured, it would have been difficult for the honest judges to get a hearing,
and Montesinos could have slandered the whistleblowers so as to discredit them.
Given that the supply of corruptible politicians and judges exceeded Mon-
tesinos’s limited demand, then, the politicians and judges had little bargaining
power, so their price, as the data show, was relatively low. With television, by
contrast, Montesinos had to bribe all of the widely watched channels. If he had
succeeded in bribing all bar one, that renegade channel, by broadcasting unfavor-
able stories, could harm him unilaterally (Besley and Prat, 2004). Each television
channel had holdup power, regardless of how many of them he had bought
The bargaining game of Stole and Zwiebel (1996) applies here. The equilib-
rium of this game has Montesinos buying a few more politicians than the minimum
he needs, since having extra politicians on hand means no individual’s vote could
be pivotal (Groseclose and Snyder, 1996). As noted, Montesinos did in fact bribe
two more congressmen than he needed for a majority. With judges, the story is the
same. Montesinos pays the politicians and judges just a little more than their
fallback, the value they attach to their compromised integrity. The news outlets, in
contrast, individually have holdup power, so Montesinos must offer a sizeable
portion of the surplus (the value he attaches to control minus the judges’ and
politicians’ bribes) to the news media.
A second, distinct reason why television’s bribes were high, in addition to
holdup power, is that the size of a bribe reflected Montesinos’s perception of how
much was at stake. This was highest with television.
The ultimate constraint on any democratic government is not an independent
judiciary or opposition politicians or the constitution. It is the citizenry as a whole.
The citizens have a stake in ensuring that the government maintains the institutions
of democracy. If a large number are able to react after the government violates the
rules, they effectively pre-empt such violations. The citizens’ credible threat to
depose the government makes the constitution self-enforcing. As Weingast (1997)
points out, however, they face a coordination problem in establishing the rule of
law. They are effective in concert, not alone. As in any coordination game, any one
John McMillan and Pablo Zoido 87
citizen’s best action depends on what that citizen believes the others will do. It pays
any one citizen to react to the government’s violation only if that citizen expects
that many others will react too. Although in Weingast’s analysis the coordination
problem is exacerbated by differences in interests among the citizens, a prior
source of coordination difficulties is a lack of information.
If our hypothetical citizen realizes the others are unaware of the government’s
transgression, it will not be in the interest of the individual to act alone. Merely not
knowing whether the others know—a lack of common knowledge—is enough to
foil coordinated action. By informing everyone about the government’s violation of
the rules, and informing everyone that everyone knows, television helps solve the
citizens’ coordination problem. Broadcast over television, the transgression be-
comes common knowledge.
This logic harks back to the view of philosopher Alexander Meiklejohn (1960)
that, in the separation-of-powers scheme, the citizens play a crucial role. The First
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which juxtaposes the freedom of the press
and of assembly, is a statement not of individual rights but of self-government by an
informed citizenry. Its purpose is that “whatever truth may become available shall
be placed at the disposal of all the citizens of the community” (p. 75). In a
democracy, “it is not enough that the truth is known by someone else. . . .The voters
must have it, all of them.”
The difference between the news media and the other checks and balances,
then, is that the media, informing the citizenry, can help bring forth the ultimate
sanction of citizen reactions. There would be little to prevent the government from
buying off politicians and judges in the absence of the citizens’ oversight. Opposi-
tion politics and the judiciary rely on the news media, therefore, whereas the media
can be effective even if the other checks and balances have broken down.
“If we do not control the television we do not do anything,” said a Montesinos
crony at a 1999 meeting involving Montesinos, some generals, and some television
He did not say this of the judiciary or the Congress. Our argument
that the checks differ in their effectiveness, while being complementary to each
other, can be summarized as follows. Since politicians and judges are symmetric in
our story, for simplicity let us omit the politicians. Montesinos has a value of
control, V(M, J ). Here M equals either one or zero, meaning he does, or does not,
control the media, and J equals either one or zero, meaning he does, or does not,
control the judiciary. The two checks are complementary if the value of securing
both the judiciary and the media exceeds the sum of the values of securing each of
them separately, or V(1, 1) V(1, 0) V(0, 1). With all-or-nothing complemen-
tarity, V(1, 1) 0 and V(1, 0) 0 V(0, 1). The less extreme pattern we are
arguing for here, by contrast, has V(1, 1) V(1, 0) 0 and V(0, 1) 0, meaning
Montesinos gets some value out of controlling the media alone and extra from
controlling the judiciary in addition to the media; but if he does not control the
Said by General Elesva´n Bello. Video 1792, November 26, 1999 (Jochamowitz, 2002, p. 17).
88 Journal of Economic Perspectives
media, all is lost. This is the sense in which we can say that, while the checks and
balances are interdependent, the media are the crucial check.
Fujimori’s Fall
Demonstrating its power, it was television that finally toppled Fujimori, with
the help of honest politicians and a disgruntled insider. Two opposition congress-
men, Luis Iberico and Fernando Olivera, obtained the videotape of Montesinos
bribing congressman Kouri, the tape having been purloined from Montesinos’s
office by Matilde Pinchi Pinchi, his trusted bookkeeper (and mistress). On Sep-
tember 14, 2000, Olivera showed it at a press conference in a Lima hotel. According
to a reconstruction of the events by Bowen and Holligan (2003, pp. 389–394),
Montesinos’s reaction was to threaten the television owners. “Play this down,” he
ordered. “If I am screwed, then so are all of you.” He told Fujimori to be patient:
“After all, we have the press under control.” However, the sole unbought television
channel, the cable outlet Channel N, began showing the video over and over.
Panicking, Fujimori threatened to fire Montesinos, who responded with a threat.
Referring to his collection of videotapes, he said, “If necessary, I can set the prairie
on fire.”
Despite Montesinos’s intimidation, the other television channels started
broadcasting the Kouri videotape. What induced them to break ranks? Perhaps they
reasoned that they could not ignore the tape, because so many had watched it on
Channel N or heard about it. (Activists had set up large-screen televisions in the
streets showing Channel N for the benefit of nonsubscribers.) Also, Kouri went on
television to deny he was corrupt, claiming the US$15,000 was a personal loan from
the secret-police chief, which in its sheer implausibility may have further spread the
news. The regime imploded.
Why did Montesinos neglect to bribe the channel that was to bring him down,
Channel N? He may have wanted to but been unable to: its owners, as noted, placed
a high value on their reputation. Also, he may have miscalculated, reckoning that,
as a relatively expensive cable channel with only tens of thousands of subscribers,
it was harmless. The press conference that he remarked “never existed” aired on
Channel N.
Although the Kouri videotape was enough to destroy Fujimori, governments
elsewhere have survived similar revelations. In the 1990s, Russians had ample
evidence of widespread corruption, but did not depose their government. In
Ukraine under President Leonid Kuchma, there arose a situation strikingly alike
Peru’s. The state apparatus amassed information on businesspeople, judges and
politicians. In the postcommunist era, some had become rich via dubious privat-
izations, others were taking bribes or evading taxes. Kuchma used the threat of
prosecution as a lever, exercising control by blackmail. Without Kuchma’s knowl-
edge, one of his bodyguards audiotaped his office conversations, and in 2000, an
opposition politician released the tapes. Kuchma can be heard ordering officials to
harass opposition politicians and activists and to manipulate the voting in the
How to Subvert Democracy: Montesinos in Peru 89
presidential election. A journalist who was investigating government corruption,
Georgy Gongadze, is discussed in the tapes. On one, a voice says, “I’m telling you,
drive him out, throw him out. Give him to the Chechens,” and on a later tape, “That
Gongadze, goodbye, good riddance.”
Gongadze’s decaying corpse was found in a
forest, beheaded. After transcripts of the tapes were posted on the Internet (the
newspapers and television being under Kuchma’s control), thousands of demon-
strators thronged the streets. Kuchma was able to wait out the protests, however,
and his rule continued unchecked.
Media publicity of government misdeeds may not be decisive, then. Why was it so
potent in Peru? Common knowledge of corruption may set the scene for the govern-
ment to be overthrown, as we have argued, but it is not sufficient. Exposure does not
ensure the citizens will rise up in large enough numbers. Their coordination problem
remains (Weingast, 1997), and additional factors must be present for it to be overcome.
By the time the vladivideos were broadcast, the government had already been
weakened. The economy, the basis of Fujimori’s claim to legitimacy, was underper-
forming. From 1998 to 2000, economic growth averaged just 1.2 percent. Fujimori’s
third presidential election, held a few months before, had been so blatantly rigged that
it had galvanized the opposition and sparked street demonstrations.
The nature of the videotapes was a further factor. Peruvians had long sus-
pected their government was crooked. Charges of corruption had been made
before in the independent newspapers. With allegations made in print, however,
people found it hard to figure out the truth. Montesinos would muddy the waters,
denying the accusations and making counteraccusations. The videotapes, by con-
trast, were indisputable proof. Seeing a bribe actually being paid is more convinc-
ing than being told about it. It is not merely that a picture is worth a thousand
words; it is that the picture conveys information that words cannot. (To underscore
this point: imagine yourself reading a newspaper account of a corrupt incident,
then look back at Figure 1.)
While governments are not always brought down after being exposed as
corrupt, Montesinos’s respect for the power of the news media, as evidenced by the
size of his bribes, was well founded.
The Montesinos Virus
Peru’s checks and balances, put in suspension by the Fujimori administration,
ultimately did their job. The government was toppled by a popular uprising,
provoked by the broadcast of the incriminating tape obtained by opposition
politicians. Fujimori and Montesinos were then indicted by the Lima prosecutor.
Measured by the bribes Montesinos paid, the news media, and in particular
television, put far a stronger constraint on the government than the legislature or the
judiciary. Television is the most expensive of the checks and balances to undercut for
The quoted transcripts are at See Arel (2001) and Darden
90 Journal of Economic Perspectives
two reasons. Television owners have more bargaining power than judges and politi-
cians. Also, the other checks and balances obtain their force mainly via the threat of
exposure to the citizens, and television gives the widest exposure.
Ordinary Peruvians were the target of Montesinos’s propaganda. According to
his own statements in the vladivideos, he saw television, with millions of viewers, as
more of a threat than the newspapers, with tens of thousands of readers. He
micromanaged the contents of the tabloid newspapers read by the uneducated, but
was unconcerned, he said, about what was written in the broadsheet newspapers
read by the educated. It was not the elite whom Montesinos feared, but the masses.
Numerous countries suffer from “the Montesinos virus,” according to the
Polish journalist and former democracy activist Adam Michnik (2000), which he
says is “a newly discovered cancerous disease found most commonly in contempo-
rary democratic states.” In countries like Russia under Vladimir Putin, Zimbabwe
under Robert Mugabe, Malaysia under Mahathir Mohamed, Haiti under Jean-
Bertrand Aristide and elsewhere, elections are held but a ruling party holds control.
Cross-country regressions show that countries lacking a free press tend to have high
corruption (Adsera`, Boix and Payne, 2003; Ahrend, 2002; Brunetti and Weber,
2003). Our finding may apply, therefore, not only to 1990s Peru but also to nascent
democracies elsewhere.
The news media are the chief watchdog. The checks and balances work as a
system, so an independent judiciary and genuine political competition are impor-
tant. But the media can provide oversight of the government even where the other
checks and balances have broken down. Safeguards for the media—ensuring they
are protected from political influence and are credible to the public—may be the
crucial policies for shoring up democracy.
For comments and discussions, we thank Jonathan Bendor, Beatriz Boza, Gerhard Casper,
Enrique Chavez, Peter Gourevitch, Stephen Haber, Matthew Kahn, Stephen Krasner, Phillip
Leslie, David McKenzie, Luis Moreno Ocampo, Olena Prytula, John Roberts, Jose Ugaz, Barry
Weingast and Christopher Woodruff, as well as editors James Hines, Andrei Shleifer, Timothy
Taylor and Michael Waldman. Productive research assistance was provided by Teresita Pe´rez.
We acknowledge support from the Center for Global Business and the Economy at the Stanford
Graduate School of Business, the Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at
the Stanford Institute for International Studies and a John M. Olin Program in Law and
Economics Summer Research Fellowship to Zoido.
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Implicating himself in his own blackmail on others was a unique and effective insurance policy that gave him the ultimate power and job security until the "Vladivideo" leaks. Image obsessed, fully-believing that media controls people's opinions, and that he should be getting his money's worth from bribing the media, he monitored news broadcasts constantly. Many other politicians continuously monitor the news, can think of a few.... This is an incredibly detailed, rich, and unique data set on corruption, and the data is the distinguishing feature of this research. Here is a table of the vote tallies from that third "rigged" election: ![Imgur]( The importance of independent, unbiased media. Vladimiro Montesinos Torres was the man behind the curtain throughout President Alberto Fujimori's 10 years in office. He was at the centre of a vast web of illegal activities, including embezzlement, graft, gunrunning, and drug trafficking. He has been tried, convicted and sentenced for numerous of these charges. Montesinos had strong connections with the CIA and was said to have received $10 million from the agency for his government's anti-terrorist activities. When the "Vladi-videos" (secret videos recorded by Montesinos that showed him bribing elected congressmen into leaving the opposition and joining the Fujimorist side of the Congress) came to light in 2000, the ensuing scandal caused Montesinos to flee the country and prompted the resignation of Fujimori. Read more about Vladimiro here: ![Imgur]( President Alberto Fujimori was the 62nd president of Peru from July 1990 to November 2000. Fujimori ended his presidency by fleeing Peru for Japan amid a major scandal involving corruption and human rights violations. Transparency International considered the money embezzled by Fujimori to be the sixth most for a head of government active within 1984–2004, currently estimates being $600 million. Fujimori is credited by many Peruvians for bringing stability to the country after the violence and hyperinflation of the García years. While it is generally agreed that the "Fujishock" brought short/middle-term macroeconomic stability, the long-term social impact of Fujimori's free market economic policies is still hotly debated. Read more about his bio here: ![Imgur]( John McMillan (January 1951 – March 2007) was the Jonathan B. Lovelace professor of Economics at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, and was one of the world's leading economic theorists and applied microeconomists. He has made important contributions to auction theory and mechanism design. In the 1980s, he worked on the use of incentives in state owned enterprises in China and policies for emerging economies. His other work has examined entrepreneurship in those economies, as well as the institutional structure for economic development and corruption. For more research by him: Pablo Zoido is an influential economist known for his work on governance, corruption and economic growth. For more research by him: This could not be any more relevant today.