Peru plays

Vladimiro Montesinos, wanted on corruption and other charges, has remained at large for six months.

First there were the videos. Now there's even a computer game focusing on the scandal surrounding Latin America's most-wanted fugitive - Peru's former spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos.

Accused of multimillion dollar corruption and human rights violations, Mr. Montesinos is believed to have spent most of his six months on the lam here in Venezuela, where he has military contacts.

In Peru, where "Vladigame" went on the market last week, Montesinos represents a decade of decay. As Peruvians prepare to vote in an expected June presidential runoff, the new computer amusement lets them blast the preceding corrupt administration and send Montesinos, formerly head of SIN, the aptly named Peruvian secret police organization, to prison.

"Even though there is a legal process under way to achieve justice, people want to ease their frustrations," says Sebastian Zileri, spokesman for Caretas, the Lima news magazine that produced the game.

The most well-documented sighting of Montesinos was in December, in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. The opposition press has alleged that the government of President Hugo Chavez knows more than it is letting on about the fugitive's whereabouts.

"I have little doubt," says Teodoro Petkoff, editor of the Caracas evening newspaper TalCual and a minister in a previous administration, "that the government has deliberately muddied the waters over the Montesinos case."

Venezuelan government spokesmen reject such insinuations. "Chavez does not even know Montesinos, and has the greatest interest in seeing him punished," says Interior Minister Luis Miquilena. "He has said that if he [Montesinos] falls into the hands of the Venezuelan government, he will be returned to Peru."

However, links between ex-Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, close adviser Montesinos, and the current Venezuelan administration go back at least to 1992. That February, Chavez, then a lieutenant colonel, led an attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government, headed by Carlos Andres Perez.

Mr. Fujimori had good reason to dislike Mr. Perez, who had broken off diplomatic relations with Peru. So when 93 Venezuelan military rebels fled to Peru in a C-130 after a second, November coup attempt had failed, it was not surprising that they were treated warmly after landing in Iquitos. (Chavez was not among them, however, as he was already in jail by the time of the second coup.)

The 93 conspirators were given asylum and lived for two years in comfortable exile at the expense of the Peruvian government. Some commentators suggest Montesinos has now called in the favor.

Montesinos was the power behind the throne during Fujimori's decade-long rule. The two are alleged to have accumulated hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars between them, although so far only $250 million of this has been located in foreign bank accounts, says special prosecutor Jose Ugaz, who is investigating Montesinos.

The ex-spy chief is alleged to be responsible for the dirty tricks, including torture, murder, and electoral fraud, that kept Fujimori in power.

But not long after the latter's controversial second re-election a year ago, the release of a video showing Montesinos bribing a congressman put an end to their joint reign. Subsequent "Vladivideos," secretly taped by Montesinos and showing apparent bribe-taking by top business and political leaders, led to arrests and left the nation reeling.

Fujimori fled to Japan, the land of his birth, where he appears safe from extradition.

Montesinos first sought asylum in Panama, then returned to Peru, apparently convinced he could stage a coup. His second escape involved a switch from one yacht to another in the mid-Pacific, according to military aides who helped him, and who were later arrested in Brazil.

He arrived in Caracas on December 7, via the Caribbean island of Aruba, where a Venezuelan plastic surgeon altered the fugitive's hawkish features. Dr. Lorenzo di Cecilia has said he had no idea as to the identity of his patient.

With the leaking of photographs taken of Montesinos in Venezuela before his surgery, the pressure on the Venezuelan government here increased.

Minister Miquilena said last month that he had information "that that gentleman was here ... and the information I have suggests there was complicity on the part of the police ... it seems that ... they were even close to arresting him, and they let him go."

Some now speculate that the elusive Montesinos has moved to Colombia's southern Amazon jungle and is being protected there by guerrillas or cocaine traffickers.

But Cecilia Valenzuela, one of Peru's top investigative journalists, laughs at the suggestion. "I don't think so," she says. "Montesinos is pathologically afraid of mosquitoes."

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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