- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2001

CARACAS, Venezuela — Secret police, aided by the FBI and other foreign police agencies, have captured South Americas most wanted man — Perus ex-spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos — President Hugo Chavez announced yesterday.
The capture ends an eight-month chase for the man many Peruvians say effectively ran their country for years with a network of corruption. His scandals led to the downfall of Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori in November.
Peruvian Interior Minister Antonio Ketin Vidal, speaking from Caracas international airport, said a military plane was on its way to pick up Mr. Montesinos and take him back to Peru. The former spy chief should arrive in Lima at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. today local time, Mr. Vidal told Perus Channel 5 television by telephone.
Heavy security ringed the military terminal where Mr. Montesinos was being held. Mr. Vidal said Mr. Montesinos was in good health and apparently hadnt undergone plastic surgery to disguise himself, as was widely reported.
Mr. Montesinos, accused of amassing a fortune by dealing drugs and weapons, was seized inside a Caracas safe house late Saturday, Mr. Chavez announced during a summit of Andean leaders in the central Venezuelan city of Valencia.
"Fortunately, we have captured Vladimiro Montesinos alive," Mr. Chavez said, adding that the spy master would be deported to Peru "faster than a rooster crows."
Mr. Montesinos, 55, faces charges including money laundering, corruption and directing death squads. Peru had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Mr. Montesinos, who is accused of having stashed tens of millions of dollars in Swiss banks.
Perus interim President Valentin Paniagua hailed the arrest as "an important and definitive step in the process of moralization of the nation."
Peruvian legal experts have said it is likely Montesinos will eventually face a life sentence in prison.
Peruvian Foreign Minister Javier Perez de Cuellar thanked Mr. Chavez for the arrest of what he called "a delinquent drug trafficker" who will be tried "like any delinquent in our country." Interior Minister Antonio Ketin Vidal also praised intelligence agencies from other nations, including the FBI. He said details of the chase would be made public later.
As head of Perus powerful spy agency, Mr. Montesinos had been the power broker behind the government during Mr. Fujimoris 10-year rule.
Peruvian investigators say Mr. Montesinos and his cronies in the military amassed a fortune from arms dealing and drug trafficking. Investigators have detailed what they say is a huge criminal network run by Mr. Montesinos by which he controlled politicians, courts, military officials and businessmen through bribery and blackmail.
Among his achievements, investigators say, was paying off congressmen and judges to ensure Mr. Fujimoris 2000 re-election to a third term.
Mr. Montesinos fall began in September when videos that appeared to show him bribing an opposition congressman to support the government were broadcast on television.
As the crisis grew, Mr. Montesinos fled to Panama. But when he was refused asylum there, he returned to Peru and went into hiding. Mr. Fujimori led a futile hunt for his former right-hand man, and Mr. Montesinos slipped out of the country.
Mr. Fujimori lasted only a little longer: In November, he fled to Japan, and Peruvian lawmakers declared him "morally unfit" for office.
During his time in hiding, Mr. Montesinos reportedly underwent plastic surgery in December to alter his hawklike features.
From Peru, he fled to Costa Rica, then flew to Aruba, about 20 miles off northwestern Venezuela, according to statements by three Peruvian army officers and Costa Rican officials. He reportedly used a false Venezuelan passport bearing the name Manuel Antonio Rodriguez Perez.
A man using the name Manuel Rodriguez was treated for an irregular heartbeat and had plastic surgery at a Caracas clinic in December, said Carlos Mora, a cardiologist at the clinic. He said the patient came from Aruba.
With rumors putting Mr. Montesinos in Colombia, in Ecuador and even in Cuba, Venezuelan Defense Minister Jose Vicente Rangel once described the manhunt as passing from the realm of "magical realism" to a popular "serial novel."
Mr. Chavez said yesterday that military intelligence, tipped off to Mr. Montesinos whereabouts, had been watching a suspected Caracas safe house for several days.
Mr. Montesinos, who moved frequently to avoid detection, was supposed to slip to another hiding place, Mr. Chavez said.
"The people who knew his whereabouts were very desperate because the time had passed to take him to another location. This desperation led [Montesinos] to make some mistakes that were detected by our intelligence agencies," he said.

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