Latin America & Caribbean

Profile: Alberto Fujimori

Alberto Fujimori in file photo from 1999
Image caption Alberto Fujimori's time in office was eventful

To his supporters, Alberto Fujimori was the president who saved Peru from the twin evils of terrorism and economic collapse.

To his opponents, he was an authoritarian strongman who rode roughshod over the country's democratic institutions in order to preserve his hold on power.

Mr Fujimori's decade in power from 1990 to 2000 was marked by a series of dramatic twists and turns.

One of the key moments of his presidency was the hostage siege by Marxist MRTA rebels at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima in 1996-97.

After a four-month stand-off, commandos were sent in to take the building.

All 14 rebels were killed and nearly all the 72 hostages were rescued in an operation that at the time cemented Mr Fujimori's talking and acting tough.

But a bribery scandal involving former intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos helped tarnish the president's reputation.

In November 2000, Mr Fujimori fled to his parents' native Japan, where he lived for five years in self-imposed exile.

In an effort to resurrect his political career and launch a new bid for the presidency, he flew to Chile in November 2005, only to be arrested at the request of the Peruvian authorities.

Mr Fujimori then spent two years fighting to block his extradition to face a series of charges, a battle he lost in September 2007.

He was convicted and sentenced to six years in jail in December 2007 on charges of abuse of power, over the removal of sensitive video and audio tapes from Mr Montesinos's home.

In April 2009, judges found him guilty of authorising death-squad killings in two incidents known as La Cantuta and Barrios Altos, and the kidnapping of a journalist and a businessman.

Mr Fujimori repeatedly denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated.

Country in ruins

The 15-month trial and the divisions in public opinion it generated echoed the controversy that accompanied Mr Fujimori throughout his political career.

When he won the presidential elections in 1990, few Peruvians knew what to expect.

An agricultural engineer born of Japanese parents, Mr Fujimori was a political unknown until weeks before the vote.

He inherited a country on the verge of economic collapse and racked by political violence.

He implemented a radical programme of free-market reforms, removing subsidies, privatising state-owned companies and reducing the role of the state in almost all spheres of the economy.

Though this shock therapy brought great hardship for ordinary Peruvians, it ended rampant hyperinflation and paved the way for sustained economic growth in the second half of the 1990s.

Mr Fujimori also tackled the left-wing rebels whose 10-year insurgency had caused thousands of deaths. But he says he never approved a dirty war against the rebels.

In 1992, with the support of the military, the president dissolved the Peruvian congress and courts and seized dictatorial powers.

He justified the measure by arguing that the legislative and judiciary had been hindering the security forces in their fight against the rebels.

Opposition politicians said he was really seeking to escape any democratic checks on his power.

But he was soon vindicated in the eyes of most Peruvians by the capture of the leader of the main rebel group, the Shining Path.

Spying scandal

In 1995, Mr Fujimori stood for re-election and won an overwhelming victory. Most voters cited his victories over left-wing insurgents and hyperinflation as the reason for giving him their support.

But a growing number of Peruvians began to voice concern that the methods used against the insurgency were also being employed against the president's democratic opponents.

His critics accused him of using the intelligence service led by Mr Montesinos to intimidate and spy on rivals.

They said he exerted unfair control on the media and the judiciary, and used government resources to support his own campaigns.

This criticism increased when he announced he was to stand for an unprecedented third successive term.

Although he won the May 2000 elections, amid further allegations of vote-rigging, the prized third term began the start of his downfall.

After the Montesinos scandal broke, the opposition gained control of Congress for the first time in eight years and dismissed Mr Fujimori on grounds of "moral incapacity".

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