Alberto Fujimori peers into his 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 Peruvian president calls up opinion polls, media reports and even an audio clip from a Peruvian radio commentator that all testify, he claims, to a mounting mandate for his return.
“I’m in the process of preparation — preparation to re-enter the political world in Peru,” Fujimori said in his fullest interview since settling in Japan after resigning his post in November 2000 amid a massive corruption scandal.
Back home, the exile faces charges of murder, embezzlement and treason.
Even as the noose tightens on his Tokyo safe haven with a fresh international arrest warrant and a summons from Japanese prosecutors, Fujimori, 64, is adamant about being an increasingly potent rival to his foes back home.
“I represent a real political force. They want to eliminate that,” he said at a Tokyo rooftop social club. “I will return in an active role. The recuperation has been even quicker than I expected.”
During his 10-year presidency, Fujimori was credited with shoring up a broken economy, crushing the leftist rebel movement and attracting foreign investment. But he is now accused of doing this through corruption and death squads. The government in Lima wants him extradited to face charges tied to his once-feared spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos — who is now in prison — and hundreds of other underlings.
In Japan, Fujimori lives like a celebrity. Active on the lecture circuit, he is given publicity and donations meticulously wrapped in envelopes. He chats amicably with police officials who respect his antiterrorism tactics and even plods away on a biography. He lives with his young, well-heeled girlfriend, Satomi Kataoka, among elegant gardens at a hotel she owns in a Tokyo suburb.
Fujimori’s take-charge attitude is admired by many Japanese who blame their own country’s crippling economic slowdown on their vacillating leaders. As the first person of Japanese descent to lead a foreign country, Fujimori appears to his Japanese admirers as both a strong-willed outsider and 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 outspoken fan Nobuo Kimoto, a politician in Ibaraki Prefecture.
Invitations still stream in for his lectures — last month an event in southern Japan drew 800 people. Attendees pay minimum “donations” of 10,000 yen to the sponsoring politician or organization, but it’s unclear what cut Fujimori got, if any. He refuses to say how he supports himself.
Fujimori’s brazen challenge to the Peruvian political scene comes as Lima appears to be closing in on bringing him home for trial — and also amid new signs Fujimori may be wearing out his welcome in his adopted home.
Last month, Tokyo prosecutors, acting on a request from Peru, summoned Fujimori for questioning about his part in a 1997 hostage standoff in which rebels were allegedly executed by military commandos.
A demand for Fujimori’s arrest from international police authorities has been at the National Police Agency’s headquarters since March. Soon, the 600-page, official extradition request from Peru, delayed for the past year by translation, should arrive at the Justice Ministry.
Human rights activists have been lobbying politicians, the national bar association and the general public to pressure Tokyo into handing him over. Lawmaker Nobuhiko Suto of the Democratic Party of Japan accused Japan of courting rogue nation status by appearing to harbor a “criminal.”
Tokyo granted Fujimori, the son of Japanese immigrants to Peru, Japanese citizenship soon after he arrived. And so far, the government maintains he cannot be handed over because Japan has no extradition treaty with Peru.
Fujimori predicts Tokyo will not find sufficient grounds for extradition. “They’re not going to find a single sustained accusation,” he claimed.
The former mathematician said he is “100 percent focused on Peru” and spends hours digesting reams of political data collected by or for him. He trumpets a March survey by the University of Lima that showed a 41.1 percent approval rating of his 10-year administration — more than twice that of the current president, Alejandro Toledo.
His finger stabs at an unpublished poll that shows him winning a presidential runoff against Alan Garcia — who himself returned from exile after a disastrous presidency — and now heads Peru’s most formidable opposition party.
Experts say the wild card could be Toledo’s administration, which has been rocked by protests from disgruntled workers and a hostage crisis that sparked fears of a guerrilla resurgence.
“His comeback possibilities are inversely proportional to the perceived successes of the current government,” said Boston University’s David Scott Palmer. “If I were one of his political opponents, I’d be absolutely scared to death.”
Fujimori doesn’t deny wanting to reclaim the presidency. But he remains cagey. “I can’t reveal all the details to you,” he said, noting a key to any strategy is “el trabajo silencioso” — working in silence.
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