Cash-poor spy chief sent e-mail threats
June 28, 2001
While he was the target of an international manhunt, Peruvian intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos threatened bank officials in Miami in a bid to get millions of dollars transferred to him.
Menacing officials at an affiliate office of a Cayman Islands bank, Montesinos invoked a commando assault he directed to free hostages at the Japanese ambassador's home in Lima, an FBI affidavit released Wednesday shows.
``You can see I go all the way,'' Montesinos wrote in an electronic message from his hiding place, the FBI account says.
``When I act I do so decisively. . . . The best proof of this is the personal direction I gave during the rescue of the 72 hostages from the Japanese Embassy, which had been assaulted by the [Tupac Amaru] Dec. 18, 1997,'' he added.
FBI agent John Stewart described the threats in a criminal complaint against Jose Guevara, a former Venezuelan intelligence officer whose identity the FBI revealed Wednesday as the informant who provided U.S. and Peruvian officials with Montesinos' location in a Caracas slum this weekend.
In a peculiar twist to the intrigue, a day or so before his capture, Montesinos spoke by telephone from his hiding place in Caracas to Guevara at FBI headquarters in Miami, unaware that his accomplice in the effort had turned informant, a top FBI official said.
Little is known about Guevara or his whereabouts.
FBI spokesman Wayne Russell said Guevara left Caracas' intelligence service in 1999, soon after President Hugo Chavez came to power.
The developments Wednesday were only the latest in the triangular tug of war between the United States, Venezuela and Peru for credit over the capture of the once feared intelligence advisor to the now disgraced former president, Alberto Fujimori.
Venezuelan police grabbed him Saturday night and the next day returned him to Lima to face charges that included money laundering, drug trafficking, illegal arms dealing and directing death squads.
In Caracas, meantime, the Venezuelan president publicly denied Wednesday that he harbored the fugitive.
``It will never be proven that Hugo Chavez protected Vladimiro Montesinos,'' he said, refuting former Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez's claim that the spy chief must have enjoyed presidential protection.
Hector Pesquera, FBI special agent in charge of the Miami office, said at a news conference Wednesday that U.S. and Peruvian authorities purposefully kept Chavez's government in the dark about a weekend operation to nab Montesinos in Caracas, because they did not trust Venezuelan authorities.
``The Peruvian government's belief, and so is ours, is that the Venezuelan government was aware that Mr. Montesinos was being kept in Venezuelan territory,'' Pesquera said.
He said Venezuelan officials short-circuited a U.S.-Peruvian capture plan, and offered this chronology of events:
FBI agents, some working with the South Florida Money Laundering Task Force, captured Guevara on Friday at Bayside Marketplace after a meeting watched by undercover agents at the nearby Hotel Inter-Continental.
Pesquera said Montesinos had sent Guevara, who also allegedly used the alias Arturo Omana, to collect $700,000 in cash and a $3 million wire transfer from the Pacific Credit Corp., a Brickell Avenue affiliate of a Cayman Islands bank.
Montesinos had $38 million in an account in the bank, the FBI says, which the bank voluntarily froze after Peru alerted the U.S. Embassy in Lima about its existence.
The break in the manhunt came last week when Montesinos dispatched Guevara to get cash from the account.
On Thursday, bank officials received an e-mail from Montesinos demanding that they bring $700,000 in cash and $3 million in transfers to his agent -- Arturo Omana -- the next day.
On Friday, bank officials went to the hotel under FBI surveillance, where Guevara gave certificates to prove that he was Montesinos' emissary.
They did not bring the cash. Guevara left the hotel for Bayside. Agents arrested him.
During a three-hour ``interview,'' Pesquera said, Guevara told authorities that he ``was the one in charge of Mr. Montesinos' security and he was the one that was providing that security in a safe house in Caracas, Venezuela.''
In fact, while Guevara was at FBI headquarters in North Dade, he telephoned an associate in Caracas -- and Montesinos took the call. Unaware that his accomplice was now held by federal agents in Miami, Pesquera said, Montesinos inquired how the meeting had gone at the Inter-Continental -- and whether he had collected the cash.
But both Friday and Saturday, in telephone calls out of Montesinos' earshot, Guevara's partner, Jose Luis Nunez, a former Venezuelan police officer, agreed to deliver Montesinos to the Peruvian ambassador's residence in Caracas.
But Venezuelan security officials foiled the turnover, and grabbed him first.
Unclear amid the acrimony over the weekend capture is how former Venezuelan intelligence agents came to work for the wanted Peruvian; and how Montesinos came to be holed up in Caracas.
Guevara was freed from FBI custody after Montesinos' return to Lima, and Pesquera would not provide his whereabouts.
Pesquera said that Guevara betrayed Montesinos for two key items:
U.S. agreement to drop its extortion case against Guevara, which it has done;
A promise from Peru to pay a $5 million reward for key information leading to the capture of Montesinos.
On Wednesday, the Peruvian government said that it doesn't plan to give Guevara and his associates the reward.
Interior Minister Antonio Ketin Vidal said of the reward money, ``As you would understand, they changed their route, and I have no further comment.'' But then added, ``How can they receive the reward if they went to another location?''
Vidal was referring to Montesinos' arrest by the Venezuelans on Saturday instead of being delivered to the Peruvian ambassador's residence.
There was also confusion about Guevara's identity earlier Wednesday, when Caracas media identified the informant as ``Jose Otoniel Guevara.'' FBI officials said that Otoniel Guevara is a cousin of the informant, Jose Guevara.
In Lima, an official with the office of special prosecutor Jose Ugaz told The Herald, ``On the question of the Venezuelan emissary's identity, we must believe the FBI.'' Ugaz had earlier incorrectly identified the informant as another former Venezuelan policeman.
Herald staff writer Andres Oppenheimer and special correspondent Lucien O. Chauvin contributed to this report from Lima, Peru.
BY NANCY SAN MARTIN AND CAROL ROSENBERG, firstname.lastname@example.org, Copyright 2001 Miami Herald