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Japan-Peru spat intensifies over Fujimori
Updated: 2005-11-12 10:11

The abrupt departure of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori to Chile after five years of exile in Tokyo might have been expected to close the door on a stormy chapter in Japanese diplomacy.

But with Peru's recall Friday of its ambassador to Japan and Tokyo's active interest in Fujimori's fate, the spat between the two countries is escalating, not fading away.

Peruvian officials angrily criticized Japan for sheltering Fujimori from requests for his extradition to Lima on criminal charges and told Tokyo it should have nothing more to do with the case.

To make the point, Lima announced Thursday it would withdraw its ambassador, Luis Macchiavello.

Peru Foreign Minister Oscar Maurtua told Radioprogramas radio in Lima the move did not constitute a diplomatic recall or rupture in relations but was meant to send a signal that Peru was "fed up" with Japan.

"Any intervention by the Japanese government in relation to the extradition process that Peru is pursuing ... would constitute an unacceptable interference," said Jacques Bartra, minister of the Peruvian Embassy in Tokyo.

Japan, meanwhile, played down any hint of a diplomatic tiff. Foreign Minister Taro Aso told reporters that Tokyo had no idea why Macchiavello was being recalled and said he supposed it had nothing to do with the Fujimori case.

The history of that case is nothing short of bizarre.

Fujimori arrived in Tokyo in 2000 as his 10-year government in Lima collapsed in a corruption scandal. He resigned by fax and immediately set about winning something he apparently never had before: a Japanese passport.

He had good reason to think Japanese officials would be sympathetic. As president, he ordered the daring raid that freed 24 Japanese captives from the hands of guerrillas who had taken over the Japanese ambassador's residence in 1996.

Tokyo eventually ruled that Fujimori's Japanese-born parents had indeed registered his birth with Japanese officials, meaning he was eligible for citizenship — which under Japanese law provided a shield from extradition to Peru.

Lima, meanwhile, built a lengthy roster of accusations against the former leader, who had taken authoritarian steps, such as closing down Congress, to gain sweeping powers and crush a Maoist insurgency.

Among the 21 charges: trafficking arms to Colombian guerrillas, sanctioning torture, illegal wiretapping, authorizing death squads and mismanaging money.

Tokyo never flinched in the face of the serious accusations as Lima's extradition requests were met with lengthy lists of questions by Japanese authorities. Japan shrugged off Interpol's placing of Fujimori on its most-wanted list in 2003.

Behind the shield of Japanese citizenship, Fujimori lived comfortably as a celebrity in Tokyo, appearing in public among the rich and famous. His love life was the stuff of glitzy gossip magazines.

His source of income is something of a mystery, said Michio Royama, international relations expert at Tokyo's Sophia University.

"Where did he get the money to live such a well-heeled life in Japan?" Royama asked. "How did he manage to live such a life? We simply don't know the facts."

On Sunday, he slipped unnoticed onto a chartered jet and flew back to Latin America, apparently to pursue his goal of winning re-election as president of Peru.

But Tokyo's interest in his case has continued. Aso demanded that Fujimori, as a Japanese citizen, be treated well in detention, and three Japanese officials met with him in Santiago to check on his health and the conditions of his stay.

While Peru is eager to keep Japan out of its negotiations with Chile for Fujimori's extradition, speculation was high in Japan that Tokyo was just as eager to wash its hands of the imbroglio — while maintaining a show of concern for a Japanese citizen.

In response to an accusation by Peru of not sharing advance details of Fujimori's travel plans, Tokyo said it had not been keeping a close eye on him.

"The Japanese government has not been putting the former president under surveillance and not been aware of his daily activities," a Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing ministry rules. "But the government does not think that was inappropriate."

Fujimori's plane stopped at the international airport in the Mexican border city of Tijuana for about 50 minutes last Saturday, during which time he did not leave the airplane, Mexican migration officials said the following day.

Federal Public Safety Secretary Eduardo Medina said at the time that he was not aware of Fujimori's layover until he already had left the country again, and Mexico sent a diplomatic note to Japan asking why officials there did not offer a warning about the planned stopover. Japan has not yet responded.

On Friday, Lauro Lopez, Mexico's immigration commissioner, said Friday six officials who failed to notify their superiors about Fujimori's stopover had been fired for negligence.

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