- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2001

LIMA, Peru — The largest manhunt in Latin Americas recent history is under way for Vladimiro Montesinos, Perus shadowy intelligence chief who secretly controlled the country for 10 years, killing his enemies, corrupting its military and robbing its pension funds.
Perus top military leaders became his latest victims this week when they offered to resign after a secret videotape showed them swearing loyalty in 1999 to Mr. Montesinos and to disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori.
"There is no precedent on these dimensions in Latin America," said Jose Ugaz, the special prosecutor tracking down Mr. Montesinos and his cronies.
Mr. Montesinos fled Peru in a yacht in November, with a young woman who was not his wife, after a videotape showed him bribing a congressman to win support for Mr. Fujimori. The humiliating downfall of his intelligence chief from the seat of absolute power led Mr. Fujimori to flee to Japan and abandon the presidency.
Mr. Montesinos was last seen in Venezuela, where a journalist from El Nuevo Pais uncovered evidence he had undergone plastic surgery to alter his face.
Venezuelan officials promised to help arrest him, but reports said Mr. Montesinos was hiding out at an estate of a wealthy businessman allied to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who owed a debt of gratitude to Mr. Montesinos for giving asylum to Mr. Chavez allies from a failed 1992 coup.
Mr. Montesinos was an army captain who was fired and jailed for turning over secret information to the American CIA on Peruvian weapons purchases from the Soviet Union. He helped newly elected President Fujimori in 1990 avoid a legal scandal key documents vanished after Mr. Montesinos got involved and was made head of SIN, the National Intelligence Service.
From that position in the shadows under Mr. Fujimori, he became more powerful than all the army officers he once saluted.
"It was easy," said Mr. Ugaz, in an interview inside the heavily fortified Justice Ministry offices where he directs the hunt for Mr. Montesinos.
"He was ruthless. He had no personal affections and rarely visited his wife and children, although he had several girlfriends. He had no friends only people linked to him.
"People were afraid of the consequences if they did not obey him. He did not hesitate to harm people."
He appointed generals, judges and other officials loyal to him. When he asked the military to send over $10 million, they did so without question, Mr. Ugaz said.
"Montesinos was very intelligent and ambitious, but there was some pathology," Mr. Ugaz said.
"He was absolutely seduced by power and money. He did everything to obtain power and was the most powerful person in this country. He had no morals."
Since Mr. Montesinos fled, more than 1,000 secret tapes called "Vladivideos" have been discovered and turned over to the Congress. They were made by Mr. Montesinos in secret for blackmail purposes and they show prominent politicians, military officers and businessmen accepting bribes, signing pro-Fujimori declarations or reportedly having sex with prostitutes working for Mr. Montesinos.
Mr. Ugaz said no one has admitted to seeing the sex videos, and if they exist, they will be returned to the people who appear in them, as they are of a personal nature.
"We dont have access to the videos they are seen by judges who decide if they include criminal material," Mr. Ugaz said. In that case, the tapes go to prosecutors.
Other tapes are of public interest, and these are sent to Congress, where they are shown, and also broadcast on nationwide television programs.
During this months presidential and congressional elections, Peru saw a bizarre film of hundreds of senior army officers swearing pledges to Mr. Montesinos and Mr. Fujimori while they sang patriotic songs.
Another video showed the army chiefs signing a pledge to avoid human rights investigations into the 1992 Fujimori coup and suppression of opposition groups.
Now the interim government that replaced Mr. Fujimoris, and the government to be elected in June runoffs, must replace those loyalists and name uncorrupted officials. The presidential runoff is between Alejandro Toledo and Alan Garcia, the top vote-getters in the April 8 election.
Mr. Ugaz filed corruption charges against the former president last week and is seeking his extradition from Japan, which considers him a citizen and is unlikely to send him back to Peru.
But Mr. Montesinos is a man without a country and without a recognizable face now who may still count on fear and a legacy of intelligence activities to remain free from prosecution.
Mr. Ugaz estimated that Mr. Montesinos stole $250 million from the pension funds used to pay soldiers and police in their old age. Millions more came from weapons contracts and other corruption.
Mr. Ugaz has faced threats in recent weeks as he conducts 120 investigations targeting 450 people 35 to 40 of them already in prison and 20 of them fugitives, including Mr. Montesinos and Mr. Fujimori.
Mr. Ugaz said his son was recently followed by armed men in a dark car until bodyguards intervened, and five armed men in military gear went to the home of one of the anti-corruption judges but left when police arrived.
"I believe most people in Peru knew what was going on, but they preferred not to see and not to speak out because they were afraid," Mr. Ugaz said.

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