Former spy chief held after eight months on the run

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The Independent US

Peru's controversial ex-spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, has been captured in Caracas after eight months on the run from charges of arms trading, drug trafficking and extortion.

Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan President, announced that the most highly sought fugitive and probably the wealthiest man in South America had been arrested in spite of cosmetic surgery to mask his identity. There is a $5m (£3.5m) price on his head, but no indication of who would collect the reward from the Peruvian government.

"We got Montesinos last night," Mr Chavez said triumphantly at an Andean summit news conference in the Venezuelan city of Valencia yesterday. Extradition for trial in Peru will ensue "faster than a rooster crows", he promised.

Military intelligence telephoned the Venezuelan President late on Saturday to report the arrest. With the manhunt for Mr Montesinos over, deportation proceedings are already under way.

Mr Montesinos was reportedly being held under armed guard at the Ministry of Defence's intelligence headquarters in Caracas.

Peru's President, Valentin Paniagua, said from the southern city of Arequipa, where he was visiting victims of Saturday's massive earthquake: "We knew as of yesterday, at 11 in the morning, that there was an operation to capture Montesinos and we are anxiously awaiting news."

The capture of Mr Montesinos was almost as surprising as the earthquake. Lima radio stations gleefully broadcast Mr Chavez crowing after the high-profile arrest.

The authorities have been trying to track down the former security adviser to the disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori since he fled Peru under a cloud of scandal last October, after his own blackmail tape was aired on television. It plainly showed him handing over a wad of cash for a bribe, and eventually led to the downfall of President Fujimori's government.

A selection of thousands of such sleazy videotapes was made public and gripped the public with criminality in high places. The extent of Mr Montesinos' reach was phenomenal.

Investigators have uncovered a criminal mafia masterminded by the spy chief, who allegedly manipulated politicians, judges, military officers and businessmen through bribery and blackmail.