The Miami Herald
Sun, Oct. 03, 2004

Arrest doesn't silence TV queen

Under house arrest in her Lima TV studio, talk show host Laura Bozzo hands out 'justice' to guests and proclaims her innocence of bribery charges.

Associated Press

LIMA - From a TV studio that doubles as a gilded cage, an imperious blonde offers salvation to stricken children, metes out ''reality TV'' justice to philandering husbands and drug addicts and defiantly demands freedom for herself.

Laura Bozzo, host of the Jerry Springer-like show Laura, has been under house arrest in the studio for more than two years, awaiting trial on charges she took jewelry and $3 million in bribes to support Alberto Fujimori's disgraced autocracy.

Her afternoon Spanish-language show offers tales of incest, infidelity, teen pregnancy and prostitution to a studio audience. The NBC Telemundo networks transmit it five days a week to some nine million U.S. viewers and millions more in 16 Latin American countries, though not Peru, where it was canceled following her arrest in 2002.

Now in her fifth season with Telemundo, in a $2.5 million studio equipped with luxury living quarters, Bozzo, 53, insists her prosecution is going nowhere and she should be freed. She says her only crime was publicly singing Fujimori's praises in the months before his fraud-filled reelection in 2000.

She maintains she is being prosecuted because her program revealed that Fujimori's ultimately victorious opponent, Alejandro Toledo, had an illegitimate daughter.

''Laura Bozzo is a prisoner because at one point she stupidly defended a girl who was not recognized by her father,'' Bozzo said, speaking in the third person.

She could get seven years, and says she plans to take her case to the United Nations.

But politics are the least of it when the cameras turn on. In a recently taped segment, Erma, who prostitutes herself to cover the doctor's bills for her 12-year-old son's heart defect, confronts Gregorio, a customer-turned-boyfriend, who is two-timing her with Carolina, whose little girl has a deformed skull.

Both women are shown a hidden video exposing Gregorio as a married man. His wife is brought onstage, and the three women slap, scratch and pull at Gregorio. Bouncers throw Gregorio off the set and Bozzo offers to pay for the children's surgery.

''I feel we provide justice,'' Bozzo said.

Some question the validity of the case against Bozzo. Luis Lamas, an attorney and legal analyst, says she is being prosecuted because of her high-profile support for Fujimori and his shadowy spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos.

''She to some measure was the symbol of the old regime,'' Lamas said.

More than a thousand people were implicated in Montesinos' illicit activities and face trial. Bozzo's former TV executive bosses -- now holed up in Argentina fighting extradition -- were among dozens secretly videotaped by Montesinos as they took wads of cash to toe a pro-Fujimori line.

But the evidence against Bozzo isn't all that clear. The army general accused of buying her a $20,000 necklace and bracelet at Montesinos' behest committed suicide. In a letter, the general allegedly wrote he was pressured by Toledo's government to falsely implicate Bozzo.

Former Montesinos confidant Matilda Pinchi Pinchi swore that Bozzo received $3 million in six installments. But according to Bozzo's attorney, Pinchi Pinchi testified in a hearing that she only heard about the payment and never saw Bozzo receive a penny.