James Bond-Style Gadgets Found at Spy's Home

Reuters -- 28 November 2000

by Alistair Scrutton

LIMA - A secret hatchway under the bath leading to an escape tunnel. Cameras hidden within the cones of loud speakers. Wooden doors protected by armor plating. And a bed with a portable satellite phone within arm's reach.

Welcome to the beach house of Peru's fugitive ex-spy master Vladimiro Montesinos in the latest plot twist -- which many Peruvians compares to a soap opera -- in a hunt for the powerful, behind-the-scenes power broker known as ``Rasputin,'' a reference to the 19th century Russian mystery man who proved an embarrassment to the rule of Czar Nicholas II.

Peru's Panamericana Television took viewers on Sunday night on a first tour of the beach house of the spy chief, the disgraced close aide of former President Alberto Fujimori, located in a Pacific coastal resort south of the capital, Lima.

Police raided the house this month as part of a hunt for the spy chief wanted on charges ranging from money-laundering to running death squads. He has been in hiding since October when he flew back to Peru from exile in Panama, sparking fears he aimed to turn the powerful military against Fujimori.

But allegations he amassed $50 million in Swiss banks turned the spy chief into Peru's most wanted man, leading police to unravel previously unknown details of his personal life.

The James Bond-style beach house was not to everybody's taste -- plastic curtains and fake fireplaces vied for attention with beige bedboards, velvet and beige sofas and wallpaper decorated with gold linings and flowers.

Life-size photos of his young female secretary -- posing as if trying to win a beauty contest -- adorned his bathroom, bedroom and his personal gym.

The home -- including an indoor swimming pool with bar and hi-fi system to entertain guests -- was a huge contrast to the regular houses of one of South America's poorest nations. The government said Montesinos officially earned $370 a month.

The loudspeakers by the pool have secret cameras inside the cones, which Panamericana Television said was to film guests. Montesinos is reported to have more than 2,000 videos linking politicians and businessmen to his activities.

In his own personal video collection, however, he kept the movie version of the notorious gangster couple, ``Bonnie and Clyde'' and ancient Roman epic ``Ben Hur.''

Security A Big Concern

The television images also helped confirm that Montesinos, who had his own ``Jupiter'' battalion of elite troops to protect him while he was Fujimori's aide, was prepared to invest in his own security.

The spy chief had a pink bathtub built that could be lifted to reveal the entrance of a secret corridor which ran under the house and up to an escape hatchway hidden under a large pot of plants in a neighboring street.

Police discovered another secret hatchway by the side of his swimming pool which led to a tunnel and a garage in a neighboring house.

For years Montesinos was almost a myth in Peru. He hardly ever appeared in public and his name became synonymous with the notorious intelligence services, known as SIN, which he ran for most of Fujimori's decade in power.

After Fujimori fired Montesinos in September after allegations he bribed a lawmaker, Peruvians suddenly had access to the spy chief's life -- including a visit to the headquarters of the spy agency accused of torturing opponents and wiretapping political rivals.

Investigators in October found underground cells -- suspected torture dungeons -- under Montesinos's offices.

After a month-long search, police have only discovered small traces of Peru's most wanted man, such as 1,500 Christian Dior shirts and $1 million in jewelry -- including diamond-encrusted watches -- at his wife's house in a fashionable Lima neighborhood.