Pubdate: Mon, 25 Jun 2001
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Los Angeles Times
Author: Sebastian Rotella, T. Christian Miller, Times Staff Writers
Miller reported from Caracas and Rotella from Riverside. Special
correspondent Natalia Tarnawiecki in Lima contributed to this report.
Bookmark: (Corruption)


Latin America: Arrest in Venezuela ends eight months on the run for 
Vladimiro Montesinos. Officials say the FBI played a key role in the 
capture of Lima's longtime power broker.

CARACAS, Venezuela--Former Peruvian intelligence chief Vladimiro 
Montesinos, the mysterious spymaster who was the power behind Peru's throne 
for a decade, was arrested here after a desperate eight months on the run, 
Venezuelan officials announced Sunday.

Venezuelan military intelligence agents captured Montesinos at 10:30 p.m. 
Saturday at a safe house in a Caracas slum, Venezuelan President Hugo 
Chavez said. The arrest took place as the fugitive prepared to move to 
another hide-out with the help of accomplices, authorities said.

The accomplices "were very desperate because the time had passed to take 
him to another location," Chavez said. "This desperation led [Montesinos] 
to make some mistakes that were detected by our intelligence agencies."

Chavez promised to speedily deport the captive to Peru to be tried on 
charges of commanding a gangster-like network involved in death squads, 
drug trafficking, gunrunning and other crimes. On Sunday night, Venezuelan 
authorities brought the captive to the Caracas airport and were expected to 
hand him over to a contingent of police led by Peru's interior minister.

Although there was no official confirmation that Montesinos had been 
deported, a Peruvian national police plane took off from the airport at 
10:20 p.m., followed by a second plane filled with Peruvian officials.

The capture in Venezuela's capital resulted from a joint international 
manhunt involving Peruvian police and the FBI, whose agents last week 
obtained a key lead from a Montesinos ally in Miami, according to Jose 
Carlos Ugaz, the Peruvian special prosecutor overseeing 140 investigations 
of the former spy chief.

"This capture was an operation that to a large extent was made possible by 
the FBI," Ugaz said in a telephone interview. "Information obtained from a 
person connected with Montesinos in Miami was a fundamental clue that ended 
in the capture. We had been sure for months that Montesinos was in 
Venezuela and that he was being protected by people with ties to the 
government. We were able to confirm those hypotheses."

Chavez denied that his leftist government had protected Montesinos, the 
region's most notorious outlaw of the moment. But the president 
acknowledged that "certain people" in Venezuela had sheltered the fugitive.

"Now we have to investigate which network or group was hiding him," Chavez 
told reporters.

The capture does not end the mystery surrounding Montesinos' months 
underground. On the contrary, it raises more questions about whether 
Montesinos--a larger-than-life character who has been obscured by a haze of 
suspicion, subterfuge and myth--used his wealth and talents for intrigue to 
gain the aid of Venezuelan security forces.

The Montesinos ally who furnished the decisive lead about his whereabouts 
to the FBI last week had been dispatched from Venezuela to Miami on a 
mission for the spy chief, according to Ugaz. Recent arrests had revealed 
that Montesinos was communicating from his Venezuelan hide-out with allies 
in Miami, where the FBI is investigating him for money laundering and gun 
sales to Colombian guerrillas.

Although they declined to give further details, U.S. officials confirmed 
the important role of the FBI.

"The U.S. government has been providing ongoing support to the government 
of Peru over the course of the investigation and manhunt for Montesinos, 
support that played a vital role in his capture," said a U.S. Embassy 
spokesman in Lima, the Peruvian capital.

Ironically, Montesinos had longtime ties to the CIA and was a point man in 
Peru for U.S. anti-drug agencies during his reign at the National 
Intelligence Service, or SIN. He cultivated a sinister and elusive image, 
avoiding cameras and appearances in public while turning the SIN into the 
dominant institution of the 10-year regime of President Alberto Fujimori.

According to a former friend and fellow spy, one of Montesinos' favorite 
sayings is "Other than power, everything is an illusion."

After a video of the spy chief bribing a congressman plunged Fujimori into 
crisis in October, Montesinos escaped Lima on a yacht and made his way to 
Venezuela via the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica and Aruba, according to 
Peruvian authorities.

In December, Montesinos eluded Peruvian police who had rushed to a Caracas 
clinic where he was believed to have undergone plastic surgery to change 
his appearance.

Dogged detective work tightened a noose around the fugitive recently as 
U.S. and Peruvian sleuths arrested accomplices in Miami, Buenos Aires and 
other cities and discovered a fortune of more than $200 million in banks 
around the world.

But the fugitive dodged two more attempts at capture in the Venezuelan 
countryside in recent months.

Throughout the cloak-and-dagger odyssey, angry Peruvian leaders accused the 
Venezuelan government of protecting Montesinos. Peruvian officials said his 
capture would require a political decision by Chavez, a fiery 
ex-paratrooper who has clashed with U.S. and Latin American leaders, to 
prove himself a good neighbor and show that he had no ties to the spymaster.

In fact, Montesinos' fall this weekend had a curiously orchestrated 
quality. Chavez made his triumphant announcement Sunday in a setting that 
heightened the public relations impact: the close of a summit of leaders of 
Andean nations, including Peruvian Prime Minister Javier Perez de Cuellar.

Anticipation in Peru had built after Chavez met Wednesday with Peru's 
president-elect, Alejandro Toledo, during a brief stopover at the Lima 
airport while the Venezuelan president was en route to Paraguay. Chavez 
reportedly promised Toledo that he would bring the fugitive to justice.

On Sunday, Peruvian Interior Minister Antonio Ketin Vidal told reporters 
that Venezuelan, Peruvian and U.S. agents had been on the fugitive's heels 
for days.

"Now it can be said that several days ago a secret operation was begun," 
Ketin said. He added that Montesinos' alleged international array of 
underworld connections--Colombian drug lords and guerrillas, Russian and 
Israeli arms traffickers, intelligence services around the hemisphere--made 
him "not just a dangerous man for Peru, he had become a dangerous man for 
the world."

Ketin is a veteran terrorist hunter who personally led the manhunt for 
Montesinos, a bitter rival. Sunday afternoon, Ketin flew a Peruvian air 
force plane to Caracas hoping that Venezuelan authorities would surrender 
the prisoner on the spot.

In a subsequent television interview, Ketin said the 56-year-old Montesinos 
was captured in good health. And despite the reports of plastic surgery, 
Ketin said his appearance was essentially unchanged.

Peruvians reacted exultantly to the triumph of their reformist transition 
government, which took power after Fujimori's ouster in November. Even in 
his weakened state, Montesinos was considered a threat because remnants of 
his "mafia" survive in the armed forces and justice system. His downfall 
makes it more likely that Peru can advance its democratic transition and 
restore the rule of law.

The arrest could mean more trouble for Fujimori, who fled to Japan in 
November to avoid prosecution in Peru. Japan has said it will not extradite 
Fujimori because he holds Japanese citizenship.

But if Montesinos testified against Fujimori, the pressure on Japan to 
relent would intensify. Fujimori is accused of numerous crimes, but 
investigators do not have the kind of overwhelming evidence against him 
that they do against his spy chief--largely thanks to Montesinos' habit of 
videotaping himself as he conspired with generals, politicians, 
businessmen, newspaper executives and other influential Peruvians.

In addition, any trial of Montesinos in Peru would surely focus on 
sensitive questions involving his relationship with the U.S. government and 
on the contents of secret videotapes and audiotapes that might not yet have 
been revealed. It is presumed that Montesinos, who allegedly built his 
power with bribery and blackmail, took the most damaging videos with him 
when he fled his homeland in the same stealthy manner in which he ruled it.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart