- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

TOKYO — Alberto Fujimori peers into his laptop computer, quietly plotting a return to power half a world away, all but oblivious to being a wanted man who can’t leave the confines of Japan for fear of arrest.

The disgraced former president of Peru downloads public-opinion polls, news reports and even an audio clip from a Peruvian radio commentator that all testify, he says, to a mounting mandate for his return.

“I’m in the process of preparation — preparation to re-enter the political world in Peru,” Mr. Fujimori said in his most extensive interview since settling in Japan, his parents’ homeland.

Mr. Fujimori, who resigned in November 2000 amid a corruption scandal, hardly seems bothered that in Peru he is wanted on charges of murder, embezzlement and treason.

Though there is a fresh international arrest warrant and a summons from Japanese prosecutors, the silver-haired, 64-year-old Fujimori insists he’s a serious rival to his political foes back home.

“I represent a real political force. They want to eliminate that,” he said, reclining in a crisp navy suit at a ritzy rooftop social club for Tokyo’s elite. “I will return in an active role. … The recuperation has been even quicker than I expected.”

During his 10-year presidency, Mr. Fujimori was credited with shoring up a broken economy, crushing a leftist rebel movement and attracting foreign investment. But he is now accused of doing this through corruption and death squads. Peru wants him extradited to face charges tied to his once-feared spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who is now in jail, and hundreds of other underlings.

In Japan, Mr. Fujimori lives like a celebrity. Active on the lecture circuit, he gets donations meticulously wrapped in festive Japanese envelopes. He chats amiably with police officials who respect his tough antiterrorism tactics. He lives with his young, well-heeled girlfriend, Satomi Kataoka, among elegant Japanese-style gardens of a hotel she owns in a Tokyo suburb.

Mr. Fujimori’s take-charge attitude is admired by many Japanese who blame their own country’s crippling economic slowdown on vacillating leaders. As the first person of Japanese descent to lead a foreign country, he appears to his Japanese admirers as a strong-willed outsider, yet one of their own.

“He found great success as an Asian in a world of white people. I think he is a tremendous leader,” said Nobuo Kimoto, a politician in Ibaraki prefecture just north of Tokyo.

Invitations stream in for Mr. Fujimori to give lectures, such as one in May at an 800-person event in southern Japan where attendees paid minimum “donations” of $85 to the organizing group. It’s not clear what cut Mr. Fujimori gets, if any. He refuses to say how he supports himself.

A few weeks ago, Tokyo prosecutors, acting on a request from Peru, summoned Mr. Fujimori for questioning about his part in a 1997 hostage standoff in Lima, during which rebels were reportedly executed by military commandos.

A demand for Mr. Fujimori’s arrest from international police authorities has been at the National Police Agency’s headquarters since March. After examining a 700-page extradition request from Peru, Japan signaled last week that it would reject the request because Mr. Fujimori is now a Japanese citizen. Also, Peru has no extradition treaty with Japan.

“As we have repeatedly said, we will respond according to our domestic laws,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fakuda. “In principle, we will not extradite any alleged criminals if they are Japanese citizens.”

Legal experts say Japan has no obligation to reply to Peru’s extradition request.

Peru’s ambassador to Japan, Luis Macchiavello, disagreed.

“For us, Fujimori is a Peruvian citizen,” Mr. Macchiavello said, citing the ex-leader’s birth in Peru, his 10 years at the country’s helm and his avowed intention to return. “It’s as simple as that.”

The murder charges link him to killings committed by a paramilitary death squad known as the Colina Group. The group has been tied to the massacre of 15 persons in 1991 and the kidnapping and killing of nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University the following year.

Mr. Fujimori said the extradition request was politically motivated and maintained he was “completely innocent.”

“Probably what they are trying to do is prevent Alberto Fujimori from returning freely to Peru to lead the Si Cumple movement,” he said, adding that his new political party is becoming a viable political force.

Mr. Fujimori initiated Si Cumple, which means “Yes, he fulfills promises,” in Peru recently to prepare his political comeback.

Questioned about the dual citizenship, Mr. Fujimori said, “I have a right to hold Japanese nationality. Obviously, I also have many links with Peru … . I am respecting the laws of both Japan and Peru.”

Japan’s Senior Vice Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said the Justice Ministry would rule on the extradition request, but he would not say when.

Human rights campaigners have been lobbying politicians, the national bar association and the general public to pressure the government into handing him over.

Mr. Fujimori said he is “100 percent focused on Peru” and spends hours digesting reams of political data. He trumpeted a March survey by the University of Lima that found a 41 percent approval rating for his 10-year administration — nearly four times higher than that of current President Alejandro Toledo.

Experts say the wild card could be Mr. Toledo’s administration, rocked by mounting protests from disgruntled workers and a recent hostage crisis that sparked fears of a resurgence of terrorism.

“If I were one of [Mr. Fujimoris] political opponents, I’d be absolutely scared to death,” said David Scott Palmer, a political-science professor at Boston University who has written extensively about Peru.

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