Former Peruvian president extradited from Chile for trial

Sunday, September 23, 2007
Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, left, got into a car Saturday as police led him away from his home in Santiago, Chile. Fujimori was taken by helicopter to a Chilean airport Saturday to be extradited to Peru to face trial for corruption and human rights violations. (Santiago Llanquin ~ Associated Press)

LIMA, Peru -- Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori was extradited Saturday from Chile to face charges of corruption and sanctioning death-squad killings, a grim homecoming for the strongman who fled Peru seven years ago as his government collapsed in scandal.

Hundreds of supporters were gathered to greet Peru's former leader as his police plane landed in a heavy mist at Las Palmas air force base, across town from Lima's international airport.

Many Peruvians were elated by Fujimori's extradition but others were indignant. He maintains a strong following -- a recent poll showed that 23 percent of Peruvians want to see him back in politics -- and some worry his return could provoke turmoil in a country emerging from decades of political and economic chaos.

"There will be a sector of the country that will identify with him, and he will play a destabilizing opposition role," said congressman Javier Valle Riestra, a leader of President Alan Garcia's Aprista party.

Fujimori was widely admired for ushering in economic stability and defeating the Shining Path rebel movement during his 1990-2000 government, but his presidency increasingly came under fire as it drifted toward authoritarianism and evidence surfaced of corruption.

He flew to Peru under police custody Saturday, a day after the Chilean Supreme Court ordered his extradition on human rights and corruption charges.

Fujimori's followers and foes alike were stunned in November 2005, when he landed in a small plane in Chile and revealed his ambition to run for president in the 2006 elections, even though Peru's Congress had banned him from seeking public office until 2011. He was promptly arrested.

Fujimori had earned a reputation as a cool-headed strategist in handling multiple crises as president. But he may have miscalculated when he decided to leave his safe refuge in Japan, where he enjoyed immunity from extradition because of his Japanese nationality, inherited from his migrant parents.

It "will be interesting to see how Houdini gets out of this one," said Michael Shifter, a Latin America analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington.

Peru wants to try Fujimori on corruption and human rights charges, including sanctioning the death-squad killings of 25 people.

Fujimori, who calls the charges politically motivated, said on the eve of his departure that while his government made mistakes, he has a clear conscience.

"This does not mean that I've been tried, much less convicted. ... I hope that in Peru there exists the due process to clarify the accusations against me," he told the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio.

He noted that while the Chilean Supreme Court authorized his extradition, it significantly reduced the charges for which he can be tried in Peru. According to the extradition treaty between the two countries, he can only be tried on the charges for which the extradition was approved.

Fujimori also suggested that he's eyeing a political comeback, saying, "I still have majority support from a very popular political current.

"I assure you that there will be a political heir if I am no longer around," he added. "There will be a Fujimori movement for a long time. I guarantee that there will be some Fujimori in the next presidential race."

Peruvian prosecutors are seeking 30 years in prison for each human rights charge, and up to 10 years for the corruption charges. But prison terms run concurrently under Peruvian law.

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