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Exiled in Tokyo, Peru's ousted leader plots return to homeland

TOKYO—Five years after a disgraceful fall from power, ousted Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori plots how to make a triumphal return from his ancestral homeland to the presidential palace.

Huge obstacles lie in his way. There is, for example, the troublesome matter of an Interpol arrest warrant on charges of murder, fraud, organized crime and kidnapping.

But Fujimori seems to consider that and other problems as temporary impediments to his return to Peru. From a secret dwelling in Tokyo, he incessantly disparages his foes on his Web site and organizes his political movement by e-mail and telephone. His followers insist that he'll run in Peru's 2006 presidential election. Japan's NHK television news reported he obtained a Peruvian passport last week.

Japan's top right-wing politicians support Fujimori, but his Japanese live-in girlfriend says she foots his bills. The girlfriend, Satomi Kataoka, 38, is a blunt-talking karate expert with top-level political connections. She says Fujimori, 67, might head back to Peru at any moment.

"Even if the law doesn't allow it, he will go back," Kataoka said. "Even if he is arrested, he will go back."

While stirring up the political waters in his homeland, where polls indicate he retains significant support, Fujimori has tried not to create ripples in Japan. But since the day in late 2000 when he quit the presidency amid a corruption scandal, faxing in his resignation while on a tour of the Far East, his life in Tokyo has been marred by disturbances.

He's been ensnared by a charlatan, befriended by politicians who later went to jail, hoodwinked by a fake prince and hounded by two extradition requests from Peru.

Yet Fujimori insists on his Web site (www.fujimorialberto.com) that he's come through it all unscathed, particularly the avalanche of criminal allegations stemming from his decade-long rule in Peru in the 1990s. During his presidency, he vanquished terrorism and improved Peru's economy, but he allied himself with a sinister intelligence chief who set up a death squad and stole tens of millions of dollars.

"I have been accused of every kind of crime, from murder to treason. But until today, no proof has been given to substantiate those absurd charges," Fujimori wrote on his Web site in July.

Fujimori declined to be interviewed, but Kataoka provided a rare portrait of his life in exile and his dedication to returning to power in Peru.

He spends 12 hours a day on the Internet, reading newspapers and organizing his political movement, Kataoka said. "He studies very hard. No smoking, no alcohol." He rarely goes out. She called him "a darn serious guy, too serious."

She said she's turned down his marriage proposals—"I don't want to marry anyone"—but will stay by his side.

Kataoka, describing herself as a "strong and feisty" defender of Fujimori, said she believes he's innocent of the human rights and financial crimes he's charged with committing.

"If I'd thought he were lying, I would extradite him myself," said Kataoka, who operates a hotel in Tokyo's upper-class Meguro district.

Ever since he fled the presidency, Fujimori has been dogged by charges that he looted huge sums of money while in office, stashing cash in Japan during frequent trips here.

"Fujimori has money here. He made 11 trips here," said Luis J. Macchiavello, Peru's ambassador to Japan. "He brought the money in diplomatic pouches."

Peru's government is about to ask Japan to wave bank secrecy laws on several accounts so it can trace money that it suspects was stolen.

One of Fujimori's high-level friends is Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, a prominent nationalist who heaps praise on his "good friend," saying he wants Fujimori to return to Peru and become president again.

Fujimori's parents emigrated to Peru, and many Japanese admire him because of his Japanese heritage and for his political success.

Many Japanese also feel grateful to Fujimori for breaking a four-month siege by Marxist rebels in 1997 at a Japanese diplomatic compound in Lima. Displaying a take-no-prisoners style, Fujimori sent shock troops to crush the rebels and free scores of hostages, mostly Japanese, who were mostly unharmed. All 14 rebels were killed.

"There is a nationalist sector that likes Mr. Fujimori not only because he is a Japanese descendent who became a president, but also because of his `samurai' style," said Kazuo Ohgushi, a professor of comparative politics at Tokyo University.

Even so, some of Tokyo's gossip magazines have had a field day with the shadowy figures pulling Fujimori into their orbit.

Among them was a man who called himself Prince Arisugawa and claimed that he was part of the emperor's family. Prosecutors later charged the fake prince with defrauding guests to his wedding in April 2003 of some $200,000 in cash and gifts. Photos show Fujimori as a guest of honor.

Fujimori also showed up at publicity events for an accused charlatan who was allegedly behind a pyramid scheme to sell gold commemorative coins from the Incan empire.

Two of Fujimori's closest supporters in the Diet, or parliament, have been charged with corruption or vote-buying.

Swindlers have used Fujimori "like a giant panda bear," said Kataoka, noting that "he didn't understand Japanese very well" in the first few years.

"He didn't know that there was a lot of fraud in Japan," she said. "I rescued him."

In recent times, Fujimori has had sharper political sense. In April, he showed up at the Peruvian consulate and filled out paperwork to get a Peruvian identity card, making headlines in Peru, where it was interpreted as a step toward his return.

Last month, the youngest of his four children, Kenji, announced in Lima that his father was running for president next year and asserted that legal charges against Fujimori are "collapsing little by little."

Kataoka said she believes Fujimori's supporters will rewrite laws in Peru letting him hurdle the legal barriers against his return.

She scoffed at the crimes listed under Fujimori's name on an Interpol "Wanted" poster, saying it was common in Latin America to pursue presidents once they're out of office. The legal problems will dissolve, she said, especially once Fujimori's supporters capture control of the Congress.

"In Latin America, the one who takes control of the government writes the laws," Kataoka added, stating it as a practical reality of Latin America, where she's never set foot.

Kataoka said she would follow Fujimori to Peru, although the date is uncertain. Fujimori's Web site contains a videotape of her from 2003 saying in fractured Spanish: "Good evening! We will be with the Peruvian people very shortly!"

Interpol Web site on Fujimori: (http://www.interpol.int/public/Data/Wanted/Notices/Data/200]7/2003(underscore)9387.asp)

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(Knight Ridder special correspondent Emiko Doi contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): PERU-FUJIMORI

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