Deported Fugitive Spymaster Lands in Peru

Vladimiro Lenin Montesinos, a dreaded spymaster who once worked closely with the CIA and built an empire of corruption, was flown back to Peru today after being caught in Venezuela with the help of the FBI.

A Peruvian National Police airplane and another aircraft that left Caracas today and touched down at 6:10 a.m. local time in Iquitos, a frontier jungle city, 620 miles northeast of the capital, Lima, said an airport official in the tower, who refused to identify himself by name.

Peru's interior minister, Antonio Ketin Vidal, praised the work of several intelligence agencies, including the FBI, for Montesinos' capture.

Venezuelan officials said nothing about the deportation process following Montesinos' arrest late Saturday, ending an eight-month international manhunt for South America's most-wanted man.

But Ketin Vidal told Peruvian TV from Caracas that he was bringing Montesinos home.

The plane was quickly surrounded by some 50 police as it pulled off the runway and into a hanger. It was expected to refuel and later take off for the capital, Lima.

Allegations of CIA Links

Montesinos' apprehension came after dozens of arrests in Peru of top military commanders, politicians and media executives believed to have illicit ties to the former spymaster.

In the late 1970s, Montesinos, then an army captain, was accused of selling classified information about Peru's Russian-supplied armaments to U.S. intelligence officials. He was court-martialed, dishonorably discharged and spent a year in a military prison.

U.S. diplomatic officials have balked at the suggestion from Peruvian lawmakers that Montesinos was a CIA operative during his years as Fujimori's security adviser.

However, they said that Montesinos, as de facto head of Peru's intelligence service, was the liaison for U.S.-Peru counter-narcotics efforts.

Scandal After Scandal

The FBI, which helped track Montesinos down, in February arrested Peruvian police Col. Manuel Aybar Marca, accused of helping engineer Montesinos' escape from Peru last October as the government of then-President Alberto Fujimori crumbled amid scandal.

Also in February, another Montesinos associate, Peruvian arms dealer Victor Venero Garrido, agreed to return to Peru to face charges of embezzling $100 million in public pension funds rather than fight extradition from Miami. He has been cooperating with authorities here, helping to untangle a 10-year web of corruption reputedly spun by Montesinos.

Once in Lima, Montesinos was to be whisked away to a secret location, Ketin Vidal said.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was almost casual in informing reporters of Montesinos' capture during an Andean summit on Sunday.

"Fortunately, we have captured Vladimiro Montesinos alive," Chavez said. Montesinos would be deported "faster than a rooster crows," he said.

A Tip-Off

Suspicious neighbors and people whom Montesinos had hired tipped off police to the Peruvian's whereabouts, Chavez said. Agents moved in when it appeared Montesinos was about to leave.

"The people who knew his whereabouts were very desperate because the time had passed to take him to another location. This desperation led [Montesinos] to make some mistakes that were detected by our intelligence agencies," Chavez said.

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