-- The dramatic series gripping Peru has a plot more incredible than any Latin soap opera. If the series had a name, it would be "Sex, Bribes and Videotapes." And the best part -- or worst, depending on who stars in the latest episode -- is that this series is totally real.

They are "the Vladivideos," the secret weapons of Alberto Fujimori's presidency, thousands of videotapes taken with hidden cameras by his former intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos. Loaded with explosive content that was used to control actors from virtually all sectors of Peruvian society, they depict well-known figures taking bribes, plotting against government opponents, agreeing to rig elections and, sometimes, taking their pants down.

One or more of these videos are released daily, via Congress or the courts, as part of an investigation into corruption during the Fujimori years from 1990 to 2000. The escapades have this country wide-eyed and shaking its collective head at the extraordinary catalogue of duplicity and treachery by media moguls, politicians, television stars, Supreme Court justices, army generals and foreign and local companies.

The celluloid avalanche is dashing reputations, careers, friendships -- and more than a few marriages.

"It is not that this level of corruption doesn't exist in other countries in Latin America or that Peruvians did not suspect that it existed here," said Judge Saul Pena Farfan, who is in charge of Montesinos's corruption case and whose office is viewing and sorting most of the videotapes. "It is just that we Peruvians are probably the first to fully see the ugly reality of national corruption so completely captured on film. For us, this is a horror movie, but one that we ourselves lived."

One tape shows Montesinos -- now a fugitive, estimated to have amassed $1 billion through extortion and kickbacks from drug and weapons deals -- bragging to the former joint chiefs of the Peruvian military about his warm relationship with U.S. Ambassador John Hamilton.

The video was shot in Montesinos's office, five months before the controversial April 2000 elections in which Fujimori was seeking a unprecedented third term. Montesinos, who delighted in filming himself as well as others, described how he met with Hamilton at the ambassador's residence to "have a talk with our underwear off," meaning a frank, friendly chat.

Montesinos, who was a longtime ally of the CIA, showed glee as he recounted to the generals that Hamilton said he would "remain neutral" on the outcome of the elections, regardless of who won. Montesinos also expressed joy that Hamilton was calling the shots instead of former U.S. Ambassador Dennis Jett, a harsh critic of Fujimori.

Hamilton confirmed in an interview that the meeting took place, but said Montesinos skewed its contents.

"He heard what he wanted to hear," Hamilton said. "I told him what I told everyone else, that we would be neutral regarding who won, but that we would be anything but neutral on the process."

Hamilton also pointed out that following allegations of fraud on voting day, he pressed Fujimori "very aggressively" by publicly calling for a runoff with Fujimori's chief opposition rival, Alejandro Toledo. But the tape has infuriated leaders such as Carlos Ferrero, the acting president of Peru's Congress who hails from Toledo's party.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Hamilton should have been recalled by Washington because of these videos," Ferrero said in an interview.

Political allies of virtually all the main presidential candidates have been caught on videotape taking money from Montesinos, or have admitted to having had secret meetings with him to head off scandal before their videos are released.

Peru has had an odd history with the videotape; tapes have led to the downfall of three of the most powerful men in Peru's modern history.

In 1991, Peru's anti-terrorist police found a videotape of Abimael Guzman, the former head of the once-powerful Shining Path movement, dancing like Zorba the Greek at a party, providing police with a current picture of the secretive, Maoist leader that helped lead to his capture in September 1992. And late last year, it was a leaked videotape of Montesinos bribing an opposition congressman that led to Fujimori's attempt to fire his powerful adviser, who had become part Rasputin, part J. Edgar Hoover. Fujimori's attempt failed, however, and Montesinos, who controlled Peru's military command, dragged Fujimori down with him.

Now, with the latest showings, more than three dozen top politicians, Supreme Court justices and others have either been arrested or charged with corruption-related crimes. Some claim the caretaker government of President Valentin Paniagua is withholding the most damaging tapes of Fujimori's opponents, something the government denies.

Most of the bribery videos were shot in Montesinos's private office in the fortified headquarters of the National Intelligence Service. Sources say Montesinos had at least three cameras hidden in paintings and a wall clock, all focused on one corner of his office. That corner, furnished with brown leather sofas and chairs, a raggedy coffee table and a cheap table lamp, was where Montesinos stung most of his victims.

Congressman Augustin Mantilla from the leftist opposition party of former president Alan Garcia -- now running third in opinion polls before the April 8 presidential elections -- was videotaped taking $30,000 there. He promised Montesinos that he could "control" radical elements in his party opposed to Fujimori.

In the largest taped transaction, Eduardo Calmell del Solar, former top editor of Expreso, a daily Lima newspaper that was pro-Fujimori, was shown taking $2 million in a suitcase from Montesinos's office in May 1998.

Romulo Munoz Arce, a former member of the National Election Board, was videotaped in November 1998 receiving $10,000 from Montesinos, with the promise of $5,000 more a month. He was told he should rule in favor of the government on complaints about electoral conduct.

At one point, he asked if he were being taped. "Oh, no," Montesinos said, smiling. "We don't do that for ethical reasons."

Alipio Montes de Oca, a Supreme Court judge, was offered $10,000 a month in May 1998 to become president of the National Election Board. Montesinos also offered to send the judge to Colombia for eye surgery.

"How will it work?" Montes asks about the money pickups in a video.

"Come every month, we'll meet, and I will deliver an envelop to you and it's done," Montesinos said. "After that, you'll have no more economic problems."

"And what do I have to do?"

"Nothing," Montesinos laughs, grinning at the stately member of Lima's intellectual elite. "Just sit around and scratch your" private parts.

In Lima's austere Palace of Justice, Pena Farfan recently took a journalist on a tour of the rogue's gallery of tapes. His office seems like a Hollywood studio's cutting room, filled with high-tech video equipment and almost a dozen people viewing and transcribing the 1,175 video and 465 audio tapes.

Congressional and judicial officials say that tapes deemed "of a personal nature" -- sex tapes or confessions of adultery -- will be handed over to the Roman Catholic Church.

Most of the tapes in official custody were seized by Fujimori in November from the house of Montesinos's estranged wife, though there are at least an equal number still floating around, authorities say. The seizure came after Fujimori's break with Montesinos, when Fujimori seemed desperate to capture his old ally, although many of his opponents now say he was simply desperate to find the videotapes.

Pena said Fujimori, who went to Japan in November after attending an economic conference and has not returned, is believed to have taken at least 50 suitcases packed with some of the most damning videos with him. The tapes recovered are stacked like a mini-Blockbuster Video branch in a well-guarded room near Pena's office.

Special correspondent Lucien Chauvin contributed to this report.

Legislator Ernesto Gamarra, right, is shown accepting cash from Luis Venero, a purported ally of ex-spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos, on one of hundreds of videos that have gripped Peru and led to numerous arrests.Former president Alberto Fujimori, right, is thought to have taken 50 suitcases of videos arranged by Montesinos when he left Peru in November.