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Peru names new attorney general
LIMA, Peru (Reuters) -- Peru on Monday named a new attorney general, praised as a political independent, amid signs that President Alberto Fujimori's fugitive ex-spy chief's grip on the courts, media and military was slipping.
Judicial authorities said Nelly Calderon would replace Blanca Nelida Colan, seen by the opposition as a Montesinos loyalist, who resigned when it was learned last week that the former spymaster had $48 million in three Swiss bank accounts.
Colan shelved judicial probes into Montesinos, but opposition lawmaker Anel Townsend told Reuters that Calderon, a senior prosecutor, was "totally different."
"She is not under the influence of Montesinos. She is an independent," Townsend said.
The opposition says judges were under the control of Montesinos, known as "Rasputin" for his power during the first decade of Fujimori's iron-fisted rule. They say Colan was Montesinos' pliable protector in the judiciary, ensuring court rulings favored government supporters.
Montesinos has been in hiding for two weeks since he returned from an attempt to seek asylum in Panama and sparked fears he would turn the armed forces -- whose generals he hand picked -- against Fujimori.
But money-laundering charges sounded a death-knell for Montesinos, whose apparent involvement in the bribing of an opposition lawmaker sparked Fujimori's decision in September to call elections next year -- four years early.
Swiss authorities said last week they had discovered $48 million in the ex-spy master's bank accounts. Fujimori said the cash was illicit and it was the most serious evidence yet that Montesinos was involved in corruption.
Colan gained notoriety for shelving cases such as allegations that the ex-spy chief received $50,000 a month from a drug trafficker to use jungle airstrips.
The government says Montesinos is in hiding and that security forces know his general whereabouts. But on Monday, there was still no sign of when he would be caught.
Montesinos' empire will be hard to dismantle, political analysts say, in part because of his reputed archive of thousands of videos implicating business and political figures in his web of influence.
Media reports have said Montesinos could have amassed $1 billion and have alleged he holds bank accounts -- in Panama, the Cayman Islands, Spain and the United States -- through a web of front companies and family members.
"Peruvians have lost their ability to be shocked," said opposition La Republica newspaper, in response to the daily revelations about Montesinos published in both opposition and pro-government newspapers.
Fujimori, who defended Montesinos for his success in defeating violent leftist guerrillas and hunting down drug traffickers, said he had known "absolutely nothing" about the money-laundering, a statement greeted with cynicism by Peru's opposition.
A state attorney is investigating the case. If prosecuted and found guilty, Montesinos could face life imprisonment.
Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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