Peru Arrests Armed Forces Chief

Peruvian authorities today arrested the armed forces chief under former President Alberto Fujimori, the highest-profile figure yet detained in corruption probes of the nation's ex-spy chief, state television reported.

Former Gen. Jose Villanueva, who was one of Peru’s most powerful figures until he was forced out in October, was arrested by police at a hotel in coastal, tropical town near Ecuador. A witness said he was with his wife and personal bodyguards.

It was unclear what were the exact charges Villanueva faced, but he has been accused of helping ex-spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos flee the country and of being unable to justify a large income and ownership of houses around Lima.

Montesinos was at the center of a bribery scandal that ended in the ouster of Fujimori last month. The ex-spy chief is reported to have escaped from Peru in October and is wanted on charges ranging from money laundering to running death squads.

State lawyer Jose Ugaz, who is leading a probe into Montesinos, also said Villanueva had been arrested and that it appeared he faced charges of helping Montesinos flee Peru.

“A state prosecutor initiated charges and asked for the house arrest of Villanueva. The interior ministry ordered his capture,” Ugaz told Channel N cable news.

President Valentin Paniagua’s new interim government, which replaced Fujimori, says Montesinos skimmed profits off the illegal arms and drugs trader and extorted the media, military and courts.

Peruvian courts and Congress are probing links of hundreds of top generals, businessmen and judges to Montesinos, the right-hand man to Fujimori for 10 years. But so far only a few people have been detained.

Military is Traditional Power Broker

The military is a traditional power broker in Peru and under Fujimori’s 10 year rule that influence grew. The military was Fujimori key backer and Montesinos handpicked most of the generals.

Government investigators say Montesinos’s amassed a huge fortune by skimming profits off secret state arms contracts.

When Paniagua replaced Fujimori last month, one of his first moves was to fire dozens of officers in the military who could have been loyal to Montesinos.

The military has in the past played a key role in Peru and in 1992 it sent tanks into the streets to close Congress and the courts to allow Fujimori to rule by decree for a year amid rising leftist rebel violence.

This month, Peruvian authorities arrested a legislator, Antonio Palomo, accused of helping an accomplice of Montesinos. He was then the most senior figure held so far in the case.

Military officials said the spy chief sailed in October from Peru to Costa Rica, and traveled on to the Caribbean island of Aruba or Venezuela on a false passport. But there has been no concrete evidence to Montesinos’s whereabouts.

Congress fired Fujimori last month as “morally unfit” to govern after he fled to Japan amid spiraling corruption allegations against Montesinos.