As Peru's Congress cleared the way for former president Alberto Fujimori to be charged with responsibility for two massacres by an army death squad, Fujimori remained sheltered in Tokyo, protected by his Japanese citizenship and pampered by a coterie of Japanese friends.
Peru hopes that the unanimous vote in Lima on Monday to charge Fujimori for actions taken while he was president will pressure Japan to either extradite him or prosecute him for human rights violations.
But a Foreign Ministry official said that because Japan does not have an extradition treaty with Peru, "it could be very difficult to extradite Fujimori-san." A Justice Ministry official said that although Japan has signed various human rights conventions, it was not clear that the Peruvian charges would be covered.
With little fear of being forced to return to Peru, Fujimori is living a quiet, comfortable life in Tokyo, where he has kept an uncharacteristically low profile after seeking refuge here in November. He follows events in Peru via the Internet, typing out sarcastic replies, criticism and commentary on a Web site he set up in July.
In a bitter commentary Tuesday on his "From Tokyo" site (www.fujimorialberto.com), Fujimori called the charges against him "absurd in the face of concrete facts, in the face of history." He said that "it is convenient for me that you keep talking and denouncing [me] . . . as evidence of political persecution piles up. . . . Every day this evidence reaffirms that my decision not to return to Peru was the right one."
He meets regularly with wealthy benefactors who are making it possible for him to live, as he put it, "in the manner of an ex-president" in this expensive city. A Society to Support Fujimori, with membership in three levels -- roughly $800, $4,000 and $8,000 -- has met in exclusive restaurants more than 20 times this year to introduce him to potential patrons. They easily passed their initial target of $175,000 for the support fund, and some reports say the total is close to $1 million.
"We gather people to meet Fujimori," said Torao Tokuda, a legislator and founder of Tokushukai Medical Corp. "They see he is a good person, is intelligent. We say, 'Well, he overdid it in his third term as president.' That kind of thing we discuss and after those discussions we decide to support him.
"The basic notion of the guests is that it sounds like he is not guilty and it doesn't seem like he will cause us any trouble," Tokuda said.
Fujimori fled to his parents' homeland in November, faxing his resignation, to avoid a widening corruption scandal in Peru involving his intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who is in jail facing a long list of corruption-related charges. Fujimori asked the Japanese government to confirm his citizenship because his parents registered his birth with the Japanese consulate in Peru.
But while Japan insists it did not extend favors to Fujimori, Peruvians are outraged and even many Japanese assume that he is being sheltered here.
Tokuda, a rags-to-riches outsider in the Japanese political world, has taken the lead in helping Fujimori, partly, he said, to shield such prominent supporters as Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara from criticism.
Japan's relationship with Fujimori is in many ways difficult to explain. Government officials had said no special consideration would be given to Peru because a Japanese descendant was president. Yet Peru became the top recipient in Latin America of Japanese yen loans during Fujimori's tenure. While only one Peruvian president had ever visited Japan before, 30 years earlier, Fujimori came here 12 times as president.
"Japan has always felt an obligation to Peru, Brazil and other countries that took Japanese immigrants at a time when Japan was encouraging them to go abroad," said Luis Macchiavello, Peru's ambassador to Japan who also served in that post when Fujimori first visited. "Now Japan has a problem. Fujimori came back."
The first Japanese immigrants to live in Peru crossed the Pacific at the turn of the 20th century, seeking jobs when poverty was widespread in Japan. Japan paid their transportation costs, gave them training to be farmers and even financed land purchases; support for the 80,000 Japanese Peruvians continues today.
A sense of obligation colors some of the sympathetic feeling in Japan toward Fujimori. "He was an immigrant who in the past was considered a citizen abandoned" by Japan, Tokuda said.
But while many people are willing to give Fujimori the benefit of the doubt because of his Japanese background, other voices say that if he is not guilty, he should go back to Peru and prove it.
"Japanese people in general are not very aware of what happened in Peru," said Ko Shimokawara, 28, who handles Spanish-language communications for a trading company. "Most people think, poor Fujimori. But people like me with some knowledge, if I trace step by step what he did, it's not so simple."
In Fujimori's parents' home town of Kawachi, Hisao Minami, 65, a tangerine farmer who is Fujimori's first cousin, said, "Now, people do not talk much about Fujimori."
Fujimori declined to be interviewed. In a faxed response to questions and on his Web site, he said he was able to live in a beautiful and comfortable apartment in one of Tokyo's most expensive areas because of his friends.
He is surrounded by his family. His mother is here for medical treatment; his sister and brother-in-law, who until last year was the Peruvian ambassador to Japan, were recently granted citizenship. A son works in Tokyo and his daughter, Keiko, arrived in early August for what she said was a visit.
Fujimori said he buys food that he cooks himself. He works at his dining room table, which doubles as his desk, and spends many hours at his computer.
He responds sarcastically to reports of his wealth. "Since I am a millionaire ex-president, even having bars of gold, I really don't need any help," he wrote. "However, I do have a group of friends who have formed a loose association and taken care of my major expenses."
Peru has asked the Japanese government for information on Fujimori's financial transactions in Japan. A Foreign Ministry official said there was no bank account in Fujimori's name and that another account, with funds for his children, was under another name. The Justice Ministry and Supreme Court are studying how to respond to the request, the official said.
Special correspondents Shigehiko Togo and Akiko Yamamoto contributed to this report.