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Japan naturalizes Fujimori kin

Brother-in-law to ex-Peruvian chief is a fugitive

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TOKYO — Japan said on Wednesday it had granted citizenship to the brother-in-law of former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, a move that frustrates attempts by Lima to extradite him for embezzlement and could spark a diplomatic row.

Victor Aritomi Shinto, a former Peruvian ambassador to Japan, faces detention in Peru after authorities issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of illicit enrichment and misuse of public funds and said they planned to ask for his extradition from Japan.

Aritomi, 64, has won Japanese citizenship, a Justice Ministry spokesman said.

Tokyo already recognizes exiled ex-president Fujimori as Japanese because his name was entered in a family register in Japan after his birth following his parents' emigration to Peru in the 1930s.

"We consider this a frustrating decision," said an official at the Peruvian embassy in Tokyo.

The situation could pose a diplomatic dilemma because Japan does not extradite its own citizens and no extradition treaty exists between the two countries.

"We cannot hand over Mr. Aritomi now that he is a Japanese citizen," Kyodo news agency quoted a government source as saying.

The dispute over Fujimori and his brother-in-law puts Japan in an awkward position because Tokyo feels beholden to the former president for his rescue of hostages held by leftist guerrillas at the Japanese ambassador's residence in 1997.

Peru under Fujimori was one of the biggest recipients of Japanese aid and one of 14 countries that received loans from Japan on an annual basis.

But if Peru pushes for Fujimori's extradition too hard and for too long, it could risk losing badly needed economic aid, analysts say. Fujimori fled into exile in Japan last November.

A Justice Ministry gazette said Aritomi and his 58-year-old wife, Rosa, the younger sister of the leader who governed Peru for a decade, had been "naturalized as Japanese citizens."

A Justice Ministry spokesman said Aritomi had abandoned his Peruvian nationality under Japan's naturalisation law.

Chief cabinet spokesman Yasuo Fukuda told a news conference that he believed the Justice Ministry had responded according to the law. "I believe they dealt with it rationally, as laid out in the naturalisation law."

The move comes just days after Peru took another step toward seeking the extradition of Fujimori from Japan, with a public prosecutor asking the Supreme Court to declare him an "absent criminal" and order his arrest.

A Peruvian politician lashed out at Japan's decision to grant citizenship to the former ambassador.

"Japan is playing with fire," Daniel Estrada, a congressman who has headed a congressional committee investigating Fujimori for alleged human rights abuses, told Reuters in Lima.

"It is putting its prestige as a country, and more still the prestige of its government, at serious risk," he said.

Aritomi, who is also of Japanese descent, had abandoned his Japanese nationality about 10 years ago when he became Peru's ambassador to Japan, a Japanese government source told Reuters.

Aritomi resigned last November after Fujimori flew into exile in Tokyo and has remained in Japan, trying to resurrect his Japanese nationality to avoid extradition, the source said.

He is charged in Peru with illicit enrichment and misuse of public funds.

The Japanese Justice Ministry spokesman said anyone aged 20 or older and who has had a Japanese address for more than five years was eligible to apply to be naturalised. The applicant must be well-behaved, obey Japanese laws and make a living without support from a third person.

Rules governing naturalisation are easier for those who are of Japanese descent or have close ties with Japan, he said.

Peru's efforts to extradite Aritomi have been overshadowed by its push to extradite Fujimori himself.

Japan has so far refused Peruvian demands that Fujimori, who fled Peru amid a corruption scandal last year, be returned.

Fujimori is charged with "dereliction of duty" but suspected of broader involvement in corruption and human rights abuses.

The scandal that forced Fujimori to seek shelter in Japan was sparked by his former spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who was arrested last month in Venezuela after an eight-month international manhunt.

Montesinos, accused of bribing Peru's Congress, courts, military and media for a decade as Fujimori's right-hand man, now awaits trial on charges including embezzlement and murder.

Aritomi is suspected of links to Montesinos.

Susana Higuchi, Fujimori's former wife, said on Tuesday she planned to go Japan to hunt down bank accounts in which she says he stashed $12.5 million from charity donations for Peru's poor.

Fujimori denies siphoning off Japanese donations for Peru's poor children into a private bank account during a tour of Japan in 1990 as president-elect.