Peru spymaster still at large

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The Independent US

A cashiered army captain with underworld connections holds the fate of Peru in his hands this weekend. Vladimiro Montesinos, the sinister éminence grise of President Alberto Fujimori's government for the past 10 years, is back in the country and remains at large.

A cashiered army captain with underworld connections holds the fate of Peru in his hands this weekend. Vladimiro Montesinos, the sinister éminence grise of President Alberto Fujimori's government for the past 10 years, is back in the country and remains at large.

Mr Fujimori's carefully laid survival plans are in danger of unravelling. When Mr Montesinos slipped away at the end of September, President Fujimori was among those who heaved a sigh of relief. His security chief and closest adviser had become an embarrassment: he had been secretly filmed passing a brown envelope stuffed with banknotes to an opposition congressman, thereby undermining Mr Fujimori's insistence that he had been fairly elected for a third five-year term earlier this year.

Faced with uproar in congress and on the streets, Mr Fujimori reluctantly announced he would call early elections in which he would not be a candidate, and said he would hand over to his successor next July. But if he was to last that long, and to negotiate a graceful exit for himself, he needed Mr Montesinos out of the way.

Mr Fujimori persuaded Washington that this was the best solution and the Clinton administration put pressure on Panama to give Mr Montesinos refuge. He spent a month there trying to persuade President Mireya Moscoso's government to grant him political refugee status, but the Panamanians were reluctant to be seen as a dumping ground for clapped-out political strongmen and dragged their feet. On 23 October, Mr Montesinos returned unannounced in a private jet at an air force base south of Lima, and promptly disappeared. That was the signal for another outbreak of political hysteria, with opposition leaders insisting Mr Montesinos be arrested and put on trial.Mr Fujimori ordered police to find him and state prosecutors have already begun compiling evidence against him.

A show trial against Mr Montesinos is a distinct possibility. He still has influential friends in the military and judiciary, and Mr Fujimori's own supporters are divided. He can expect no mercy from the opposition, who want him to resign immediately and want an interim president to hold the fort until fresh elections, set for 8 April next year. They have no faith at all in his willingness to preside over free and fair elections, whatever assurances he might give now.

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