Fujimori Hunts for Spy Chief with Radar, Helicopters

Reuters -- 9 November 2000

by Alistair Scrutton

LIMA - Facing worsening political turmoil, a tired and nervous-looking President Alberto Fujimori said on Thursday he was still hunting for Peru's fugitive ex-spy chief with thousands of troops, jungle radar and helicopters.

The president has been criticized for his failure to arrest Vladimiro Montesinos, prompting the opposition to try to oust a the head of Congress, a key Fujimori ally, after they said she stonewalled money-laundering probes into the former spy chief.

But Fujimori -- warning of jail for any plastic surgeons who disguised Montesinos and detailing more fortunes he allegedly amassed -- said he was serious about finding the man who was called ``Rasputin'' while the president's top aide for 10 years.

The president said 2,000 army and navy troops were on alert for Montesinos, who is wanted on charges ranging from murder to money laundering, while radar and planes in the southern jungle would stop the ex-spy master from secretly flying out of Peru.

``The hunt goes on nonstop,'' Fujimori, often rubbing his hands and struggling to find the right words, told reporters as he sat by diamond studded watches, part of $1 million in jewels seized from Montesinos' home this week.

Montesinos' unexpected return to Peru last month led to a battle for power with Fujimori and fears the ex-spy chief would turn army generals -- whom he handpicked -- against the president.

Fujimori has led a fruitless two-week hunt for Montesinos. Allegations that Montesinos was involved in arms trafficking and bribery led to Fujimori's decision in September to step down after one year of a five-year term. Presidential elections have been called for April.

Montesinos is wanted for alleged money-laundering after Swiss authorities found $48 million in his bank accounts. That fortune swelled to $58 million with finds of accounts in the Cayman Islands, the United States and Uruguay, Fujimori said.

But skeptical that Fujimori had fully broken with his right-hand man, Peru's opposition's called on Thursday for a censure vote for Congress head Martha Hildebrandt, saying she had tried to block investigations of Montesinos.

If the censure motion succeeds, the opposition could then take control of Congress and begin moves to topple Fujimori.

Congressional officials said a censure vote against Hildebrandt would be held on Monday at the earliest, but the opposition said it would set up its own legislative session to discuss the censure on Thursday.

An attempt last month to oust Hildebrandt failed but since then, Fujimori's once-disciplined party has been riven by power struggles. To worsen matters, Montesinos' return has led to claims that the president's grip on power was slipping.

``Fujimori's campaign not to be tainted by Montesinos is failing and the only thing left is for him to resign,'' analyst Mirko Lauer wrote in the opposition La Republica newspaper.

Fujimori Says He's Still In Charge

The president also sought to lay to rest worries that he was struggling to control Peru. The worries worsened recently with Fujimori's decision on Wednesday to cancel a trip to the United States.

Fujimori said that trip was only to see his children. And a mysterious predawn trip to military beach clubs this week -- seen as a personal hunt for Montesinos -- was in fact just to get some ``some sea air,'' he added

Despite widespread doubts in Peru that Fujimori was in control, U.S. officials have praised him for firing many Montesinos loyalists in the military and judicial system.

The United States tightened the screws on Montesinos by canceling his U.S. visa on Thursday.

A disgraced former army captain, Montesinos ran Peru's National Intelligence Service (SIN) amid allegations he had spied for the CIA, ordered state-sponsored torture and death squads, skimmed profits off the illegal drugs trade and extorted money in exchange for fixing trials.

Fujimori, who until now defended Montesinos for his success in defeating leftist rebels and hunting down drug traffickers, said he knew ``absolutely nothing'' about the money-laundering, a statement greeted with skepticism by Peru's opposition.

Fujimori reiterated his innocence, saying: ``I don't believe there's anyone in the whole of Peru who tolerates the illegal deposit of $58 million.''