An Inconvenient Guest

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Alberto Fujimori was alone in the hotel room in Tokyo. No handlers, no translators, no security thugs at his elbow: just the disgraced Peruvian ex-President and a sad-looking plate of grapes and bananas. He clicked on a tape recorder and hungrily peeled a red grape before popping it into his mouth. He seemed relaxed for someone who had just lost his country after a decade of colorful, chaotic rule. It was time for the interview. Where is your photographer? he asked, sounding disappointed when a reporter showed up alone to interview him. What Fujimori cared about most was whether he would appear on the cover of Time. For the cover maybe it would be better [to be photographed] outside in the garden, he suggested. Only days before, Fujimori had resigned the presidency of Peru by fax. The Congress in Lima ignored it, and instead unceremoniously dismissed him. Now the unemployed 62-year-old is settling into the homeland of his parents, with no plans to leave anytime soon. He has moved into a modern white stone house owned by writer Ayako Sono in a swank Tokyo neighborhood. I'm told it costs only 110 yen to take the subway to Shibuya, he said, referring to a trendy hot spot for young Japanese and smiling—as if anyone would believe he actually plans to ride commuter trains and hang out with the pink-haired, platform-shoed girls. The mundane normalcy of his new existence masks the turbulence Fujimori may yet face back in Peru, where political opponents now in power are investigating him on charges of money laundering, corruption and human rights abuses during his crackdown on left-wing guerrillas in the early 1990s. Behind the scenes, he has quickly maneuvered to establish his citizenship in Japan, a designation that helps protect him from extradition. He appears to qualify for citizenship because his parents registered his birth at the Japanese consulate in Lima, and that datum was transferred, somehow, into the family registry in their home village in Japan. Immigration authorities have been vague about all of this. Yes, he's registered, so yes he is a citizen, they say, but no, not everybody who is registered is automatically a citizen. His is a special case, of course, says a senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Meanwhile diplomats pray the new Peruvian government won't demand that Japan send Fujimori back to face charges. They don't want a Pinochet in their midst. Would he ever return to Peru on his own? Maybe sometime, Fujimori says. Later. For now, he claims to have a new approach for fighting corruption and staying involved in Peruvian affairs. Not necessarily as a candidate, not necessarily as a Congressman, he says, contradicting his earlier announcement that he would return to Peru to run for Congress next April.His presidency was a difficult affair. He arrived in office in 1990 as a popular reformer, a man who planned to fix Peru's damaged economy and rebuild a society fractured by drug dealing and decades of low-level civil war. Doing all that, however, required that Fujimori use a firm hand. And as the years went by, the hand became harsher and more arbitrary, which eroded his popularity. By September, when he announced he would step down next July, Peruvians were glad to see him prepare to go. His final undoing came from his close association with the former spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who was caught on videotape trying to bribe a Congressman. Then, Peru was treated to the spectacle of its President accompanying armed soldiers raiding houses looking for Montesinos, who has disappeared. When Fujimori planned a private trip to Japan following an APEC meeting in Brunei, and then decided to stay, Peruvians were surprised that the man who boasted of his samurai spirit had given up so easily.Fujimori says he plans to write his memoirs and produce video documentaries about his presidency. Much of his documentation, he says, will come from tapes he kept during his decade-long rule. They would fill up this hotel room, he says. Everything that happened for 10 years, I have. It wasn't secret. It was all very open. The tapes, he says, are being shipped to him from Peru.His quest now is for attention. A Japanese magazine reported last week that politicians from Kumamoto prefecture want Fujimori to run for office in next year's parliamentary elections. And when a photographer did go to take his picture a day after the interview, the ex-President met him at the railway station—carrying a make-up kit and hair gel.