Torture chamber discovered at office of Peruvian spy chief

Peruvian officials have uncovered a long-rumoured torture chamber beneath the former offices of the disgraced National Intelligence Service chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who is on the run from corruption charges.

Peruvian officials have uncovered a long-rumoured torture chamber beneath the former offices of the disgraced National Intelligence Service chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who is on the run from corruption charges.

The discovery, made while President Alberto Fujimori is abroad in Panama, deepens the credibility crisis in Lima as the President tries to distance himself from the former spymaster who was, until September, his closest adviser. Mr Fujimori, accused of manipulating an election to win a third term, has promised to relinquish power next year.

The President's ex-wife, the opposition congresswoman Susana Higuchi, complained on local radio this week that eight of Mr Fujimori's henchmen tortured her last June with electric shocks, and that she has received more than 500 death threats since the bitter break-up of their marriage in 1994.

Last month, government authorities denied the existence of any clandestine interrogation complex under the spy headquarters near Las Palmas army base, where the former head of intelligence retreated after a bribery scandal broke and reportedly plotted a coup. Mr Montesinos, 54, is a cashiered army captain who has wielded enormous power beside Mr Fujimori for the past decade. He and a military entourage were denied exile in Panama last month.

Since then, Mr Montesinos has been hiding in Peru while evidence emerges of $58m (£40m), allegedly drugs money and extortion payments, held in personal Swiss bank accounts. Rumours that the head spy, known as Vlad the Impaler, crossed the frontier into Bolivia were discounted last week and a manhunt continues.

Underneath the offices, the Prime Minister, Federico Salas, inspected a dungeon housing half a dozen soundproofed cells behind a two-way mirror, as well as a large interrogation room. Mr Salas, who heads a government commission ordered to "deactivate" the notorious intelligence agency, which is known by its Spanish acronym SIN, told a press conference: "I cannot say if it was or was not used for torture. What I can say is that there are six rooms of confinement, each measuring four by two metres." An archway leading from the army base to the subterranean complex had been bricked over two months ago.

The comfortable air-conditioned cells appear to have been meant for high-level prisoners, and each had a bathroom. Mr Salas suggested that after the leader of the Maoist guerrilla group, Shining Path, was captured last year, he was held in the dungeon and interrogated at Mr Montesinos' leisure. Oscar Ramirez Durand was then convicted of treason and jailed for life.

A news magazine in Mexico City claims to have interviewed the fugitive spy by radio from a hide-out. Vladimiro Montesinos is quoted extensively in the current issue of Epoca, and claims he never abused human rights. He said he prevented soldiers from shooting the Shining Path commandos in cold blood and insisted they live to disclose their secrets.

Mr Montesinos said Mr Fujimori, 61, now "wants me dead" and that he is marked as "a sacrificial lamb".

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