by Angel Paez
(IPS) LIMA -- Former Peru president Alberto Fujimori's announcement that he plans to run again in April 2006 highlights the futility of nearly five years of attempts by the government of Alejandro Toledo extradite him from Japan.
Congress barred Fujimori from holding public office until 2010, and the Constitutional Court upheld a decision disqualifying him from running for the presidency. But the former president (1990-2000) stated on his Web site, where he posts daily messages from Japan, that he will return to Lima "on a date that will surprise everyone."
How does Fujimori plan to return if every Interpol (international police) office around the world has a warrant for his arrest issued by Peru? The fugitive from justice simply says he will show up in Lima, and will win the elections.
The former leader faces nearly two dozen criminal charges, involving corruption as well as human rights abuses committed during his regime, which was widely criticized as authoritarian.
Since Fujimori, the son of Japanese immigrants, fled to Japan and faxed his resignation from there in 2000 (he was also ousted by Congress), the Peruvian state has sent two extradition requests.
The first was in 2002, in connection with the 1992 killing of nine students and a professor from the La Cantuta University by an army intelligence unit -- described as a death squad -- known as the Grupo Colina. The squad was authorized by Fujimori's security adviser Vladimiro Montesinos, who is now in prison in Peru.
The second extradition request, submitted to Japan in 2003, involves the $15 million that Fujimori paid Montesinos as "indemnification" to enable him to flee in 2000 to Panama, after a videotape showing the former security adviser bribing a legislator was discovered. The money came from state funds and was never repaid.
But Japan did not respond to the extradition requests. That put the government of Alejandro Toledo in a difficult position, especially since the president had promised in his election campaign that he would bring Fujimori back to Peru so that he would answer for his crimes in court.
"We just want to know whether or not they are going to try him in Japan. If not, then we will bring legal action in the (international court of justice) in The Hague," a source at Justice Minister Alejandro Tudela's office told IPS.
Peru's justice system is preparing extradition requests in seven other cases. But Luis Vargas Valdivia, who served as prosecutor on the Fujimori-Montesinos cases from 2003-2005, said the problem is not the number of extradition requests, but Tokyo's political will.
"What sense does it make to send Japan more extradition documents when there has been no response, and it is obvious that Japan is not interested in cooperating? Even if we send them 20 requests, they are going to say no," Vargas told IPS.
Fujimori, meanwhile, has recovered the initiative.
First, he found a radio station in Lima that was willing to broadcast his program "La Hora del Chino" nationwide every Saturday. (El Chino -- the Chinese Man -- is Peru's all-purpose nickname for people of Asian descent, and was embraced by the former president as his trademark.) The program, which is taped in Tokyo, constantly lashes out against the Toledo administration.
And in a victory over Toledo, he was then successful in getting public TV station Channel 7 to air an ad, taking advantage of free airspace granted to political parties. Fujimori's spot, which also was taped in Japan, was broadcast throughout the country during primetime.
Later, he applied for and obtained a new national identity document and passport in the Peruvian consulate in Tokyo, even though he became a Japanese citizen after going into self-exile in that country. Fujimori has thus continued to use the mystery surrounding the question of his nationality to his advantage.
The Supreme Court justice in charge of the cases against Fujimori, Jose Luis Lecaros, said three cases would be immediately activated if the former president set foot on Peruvian soil.
These include charges against him for abandoning his post and helping Montesinos escape to Panama, and for breaking into the home of his former security adviser to take the video and tape recordings that Montesinos used to blackmail members of the business community, politicians, lawmakers and reporters.
Another judge, Hugo Molina Ordonez, told IPS that of the cases he is handling, only one is still open, involving charges against Fujimori of using $2 million in National Intelligence Service (SIN) funds to finance the activities of the government palace's Casa Militar. He could be sentenced to six years in prison if convicted of the charges.
According to Lecaros, the crimes with which Fujimori is charged have been proven in court. As proof, he noted that the former president's defense lawyer, Cesar Nakasaki, says his client is not suffering political persecution. "Nakasaki's comment shows that the trials are not politically motivated," said the judge.
Asked by IPS if the five years of legal efforts have been in vain, Lecaros responded that "During this time, evidence has been built up that would point to the former president's responsibility (in the crimes), but that will be judged when he appears in court."
Fernando Olivera, who served briefly as foreign minister this year but was forced to resign by a political scandal, said that during his few days in office he asked for a detailed report on the extradition process.
"The results were pathetic," he told IPS. "There is no political determination to make it one of the government's top priority concerns. The funds have not even been assigned to finance the translation into Japanese of the documents to be sent to Tokyo. Fujimori just laughs at the whole thing."
In a recent news briefing in Tokyo, Fujimori said, "It has never been proven that I got rich. I am ready to run for president. There is a large percentage of people in the country who want me to return."
A former assistant prosecutor on the Fujimori-Montesinos cases, Eduardo Dargent, who helped prepare one of the extradition requests, told IPS that the procedure could be greatly improved if a specialized team were set up to tackle the issue.
"To ask for extradition, Congress first has to approve the request, after which the public prosecutor's office has to file an accusation. After that, the Supreme Court must decide whether it should go forward or not. The case then goes to the Foreign Ministry, translators are hired, and it takes them time to do their jobs. This is not done in one week," said Dargent.
"The cases haven't even been given different treatment according to the gravity of the crimes involved. Everything that has been found has just been sent over," he added.
Because "the authorities in Peru do not have experience in extradition processes, thick files full of generic documents have been sent over instead of sending just the relevant documents. A radical change in the extradition processes is needed."
In Lima, meanwhile, his supporters are convinced that he will come back -- to win the elections.
November 1, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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