Peru's fugitive former president, Alberto Fujimori, was arrested early Monday in Chile, where he had arrived unexpectedly in an attempt to return to Peru to resurrect his political career. Instead, Peruvian officials began working to have him extradited on charges of murder and corruption committed during his decade-long presidency.
Fujimori, 67, who fled to Japan after a corruption scandal toppled his government in 2000, recently stated his intention to defy an international arrest warrant and return to Peru to run for president in 2006. He landed in a private plane in Santiago, the Chilean capital, Sunday afternoon and was arrested by Chilean officials without resisting at the Marriott Hotel early Monday morning. He was being held at a police training academy.
For the past two years, Peru has unsuccessfully lobbied for Fujimori's deportation from Japan, which granted him citizenship because of his Japanese ancestry. In a statement released Sunday, Fujimori said his journey from Tokyo to Chile was to be the first leg of his political comeback.
"It is my aim to temporarily remain in Chile as part of my efforts to return to Peru and fulfill my pledge to an important part of the Peruvian people who have called on me to be a candidate in the 2006 elections," he said.
Fujimori was elected president in 1990, after a decade of violent insurgency, and he ruled the Andean nation with an authoritarian hand. In 1992, he seized nearly absolute power in what was dubbed a "self-coup." Under a growing cloud, he was driven from office in 2000. Peru's Congress later prohibited him from holding public office until at least 2011.
If extradited to Peru, Fujimori would face more than 20 criminal charges, from vote-buying to co-authoring murders carried out by army death squads. Among the most serious charges are the 1991 killings of 15 partygoers, including an 8-year-old boy, who were mistaken for leftist rebels.
On Sunday night, Fujimori's supporters in Lima held a rally celebrating his possible return, while opponents chanted for his extradition outside the Chilean ambassador's residence. In public opinion polls, about 15 percent of respondents backed his announced plan to run in the presidential primary next April.
Peru's current president, Alejandro Toledo, is not eligible for reelection and his popularity ratings have remained low for several years. Peruvian analysts said Toledo's struggles, as well as Fujimori's early success in fighting terrorism and stabilizing the economy, helped pave the way for Fujimori's attempted comeback.
From his Tokyo apartment, Fujimori posted regular messages to followers on his personal Web site. A message dated Monday thanked the Japanese people for their hospitality and predicted his eventual triumph over the charges against him.
"One by one I will disprove the accusations, and I will restore my innocence and my honor," Fujimori said.
Fujimori built himself a comfortable life in Japan. He learned how to play golf, took Japanese lessons, published two books and went on lecture tours. He developed a network of powerful friends among conservative politicians, including Tokyo's nationalist governor, Shintaro Ishihara. But Fujimori always said he wanted to go back to Peru.
The Lima government had almost given up on winning his extradition from Japan and reportedly was hoping to taking the case to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Such a move could have embarrassed the Japanese government, and forced them to nudge Fujimori out. But Japanese officials denied exerting pressure on him to leave.
"Above all else, he is a Japanese citizen and the Foreign Ministry is not in a position to ask him to leave," said Akira Chiba, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Fujimori traveled to Chile on a private jet, which stopped briefly in Tijuana, Mexico, according to a statement by Mexican officials. His choice to try to enter Peru via Chile coincided with heightened tensions between the two countries over a maritime dispute over Pacific Ocean fishing grounds.
"It's a pretty . . . imprudent attitude to come here with no warning during the week that has been the worst one we've had with Peru in the last 10 years," said Chilean Foreign Minister Ignacio Walker, the Associated Press reported.
Some analysts said they suspected Fujimori might have been trying to take advantage of the diplomatic spat to enter Peru more easily. Human rights groups said Peru should be able to meet the requirements for his extradition.
During a televised speech Monday, Toledo promised that Peru would not allow Fujimori to escape the charges against him.
"We are not going to allow Fujimori to try to mock us," he said.
Faiola reported from Tokyo.