Peruvian Ex-President Asked to be "Last Samurai"
Thursday, July 12, 2007 Posted: 10:43 PM JST
To the surprise of many, a Chilean judge decided today not to extradite former President Alberto Fujimori to Peru. Peru had requested the extradition of its former leader for corruption, kidnapping and murder during his 10-year presidency. In a twist that would befit a Hollywood movie, the accused former president will now run in elections in Japan.
Peruvian Supreme Court Judge Orlando Alvarez explained today that Peru had been unable to sufficiently tie the 68 year old former President to many of the events he has been accused of, while other allegations did not allow extradition under Chilean law. Peruvian Justice Minister Maria Zavala told reporters in Lima that the ruling would be appealed.
In 1990, Fujimori became Peru's first president of Japanese ancestry. An event that was covered widely by the Japanese press and created a lot of pride among many Japanese.
During his presidency, Fujimori rebuilt an economy that was in the gutter, and defeated Shining Path insurgents.
A daring 1997 military raid that freed 72 hostages, including 24 Japanese, made him a hero in the eyes of many in Japan. The hostages had been held for four months at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima.
However, corruption and human rights abuses by the military cast a dark shadow over his achievements.
That shadow never really reached Japan, though, where the former president is still mainly known as the resolute leader who didn't give in to the demands of terrorists.
"If Fujimori has an image, it's not as a human rights violator, but as the guy who rescued the hostages," said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo recently in an interview with Time Magazine.
Fujimori was very much aware of his hero status in Japan and took advantage of it after he won a third term in 2000. He was accused of ballot rigging while at an international conference in Brunei. Instead of flying back to Peru, he flew to Japan, the country his parents had emigrated from. Adding insult to injury, he resigned as president by fax. The new Peruvian government promptly demanded his extradition. But Japanese authorities, still grateful for Fujimori's role in the rescue three years earlier, refused.
Fujimori spent five years in Japan, during which time he befriended many conservative politicians and celebrities.
In 2005, Fujimori made a surprise visit to Chili in order to stage a political comeback in neighbouring Peru. Still seen as the most popular politician in that country, the wily politician saw a chance to win in the upcoming presidential elections. Chilean police, however, arrested Fujimori within hours of his arrival. He was released on bail in May 2006, but placed under house arrest early last month. A Chilean prosecutor recommended his extradition to face the more than 20 charges against him in Peru.
On June 28, Fujimori announced plans to run for a seat in Japan's upper house of parliament, in elections to be held on July 29. He will run as a representative of the conservative People's New party (PNP). The party is made up of disgruntled LDP-politicians who where kicked out of the party by former Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi.
PNP leader Kamei said that he strongly hoped that Mr. Fujimori "as the last samurai," would add "vigour to today's Japanese society, which lacks courage, confidence and benevolence."
As he is still under house arrest, Fujimori won't be able to campaign, but legally there is nothing to prevent him from running for office, the Japanese internal affairs ministry has said.
Human rights activists are furious about the Alvarez decision. "The judge completely ignored key pieces of evidence against Fujimori identified by the prosecutor, while giving extraordinary weight to information that' barely relevant," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch in Washington today.
Japanese activists and legal experts have damned Fujimori's bid to win a Diet seat. The Japan Network for Bringing Justice to Fujimori has asked the Japanese government to immediately hand Fujimori over to Peru if he enters Japan. Kazuo Ohgushi, a professor in the Graduate School of Law and Politics at the University of Tokyo, has described Fujimori's candidacy as "an attempt to flee from justice being brought on himself."
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