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Fujimori accused of stealing public funds

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LIMA, Peru — A top state attorney alleged Friday that Peru's disgraced ex-President Alberto Fujimori, who fled to Japan last year amid a corruption scandal, withdrew millions in public funds during his rule.

"There is clear proof Fujimori took out cash that came from the national budget. They were systematic withdrawals that added up to millions of dollars," Jose Ugaz, who is leading a state investigation of the former president, told CPN radio.

Ugaz said he could not specify exactly what evidence he had because the investigation was still under way.

Fujimori's family and lawyers in Lima were not immediately available for comment, but the former president has denied he committed any crimes or was involved in the alleged corruption web of his now-jailed former spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos.

The accusations by Ugaz, who is also probing Montesinos, mark the first time the state's top investigator has said evidence exists that Fujimori withdrew state funds.

Montesinos is now in a Lima jail awaiting trial on a raft of charges ranging from murder to embezzlement that could land him in jail for life if convicted.

"One conclusion we've reached is that Fujimori not only acted together with Montesinos and let him commit crimes but also had his own scheme to commit crimes," Ugaz said.

Peru has said it will push Japan to extradite the former leader, who is now charged with "dereliction of duty" and also suspected in other crimes.

Japan has refused to send home the ex-leader, who is shielded by his dual Peruvian-Japanese nationality and the absence of an extradition treaty between the two countries.

Ugaz was originally named by Fujimori himself to investigate charges that Montesinos had bribed many of Peru's officials, military and media for for Fujimori's government.

It was Montesinos who sparked the scandal that led Fujimori to flee when a secretly taped video surfaced showing Montesinos handing cash to an opposition politician. Fujimori was later fired by Congress as "morally unfit."

That tape was the first in hundreds of videos that showed Montesinos allegedly making shady deals with politicians, businessmen and military leaders.

TRUTH COMMISSION NAMED

The accusations against Fujimori came as Peru appointed seven members of the country's first truth commission in a parallel effort by the government to pick through its troubled past.

Following in the steps of other Latin American countries like Argentina and Chile, the commission is due to investigate Peru's leftist rebel and state-sponsored violence that killed some 30,000 people between 1980 and 2000.

"We hope this commission will help clear up these events ... as well as promote justice and civil reparation," Justice Minister Diego Garcia Sayan told a news conference.

Most Peruvians say they are ready to see both Montesinos and Fujimori face courts here. But some of Fujimori's supporters say the accusations he withdrew public funds were a smear campaign.

"I trust in Fujimori ... There's a vendetta against him. People are trying to get him because they can't pardon the fact they haven't found any (illicit) money on him," Congresswoman Martha Chavez, who belonged to Fujimori's New Majority party and headed Congress under Fujimori, told Reuters.

"People think that if one person in a family is a drug addict then the entire family is full of drug addicts," she said, adding that while there was some suspicion about Montesinos under Fujimori, there was no proof against him.

But Prime Minister Javier Perez de Cuellar said Friday the government was compiling evidence against Fujimori, and would seek international assistance if Japan insisted on denying its extradition request. "The proof is fundamental enough to begin judicial proceedings against (Fujimori,)" he said.

Ugaz said he had sent letters to Japan requesting information regarding suspicions the money could have been deposited in accounts there but had not received responses.

"We are asking Japan to issue an international arrest warrant that would initiate the extradition process," he said.