May 29, 2015 / 12:33 AM / 2 years ago

Bolivia captures fugitive former adviser to Peru president

Members of police and military forces push a vehicle during the capture operation of Peruvian Martin Belaunde in Magdalena, northeast of La Paz, in the Itenez Province in the Beni Departament May 28, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

LA PAZ/LIMA (Reuters) - Bolivia captured a fugitive former adviser to Peru’s president on Thursday when he was spotted eating in a public market four days after escaping house arrest.

Police arrested Martin Belaunde, Humala’s campaign adviser in his failed 2006 presidential bid, in northern Bolivia near the border with Brazil, said Bolivian deputy justice minister Rene Martinez.

“He was walking...there was no resistance,” Martinez said on local Peruvian broadcaster RPP.

Bolivia had been preparing to extradite Belaunde to Peru to face corruption charges when he vanished from a residence in La Paz where he was guarded by a team of police.

Belaunde fled to Bolivia late last year after Peruvian prosecutors charged him with graft and unlawful association. Belaunde has denied the accusations and says he is a victim of political persecution for being a socialist.

The scandal has eroded Humala’s popularity ahead of presidential elections next year and heightened perceptions of government corruption.

Peru said it was sending a delegation to La Paz to bring Belaunde to Lima on Friday. The government offered a $200,000 reward for information leading to his capture earlier Thursday.

Belaunde’s disappearance had deepened suspicions that authorities in both countries were protecting him, prompting Bolivian President Evo Morales to replace his interior minister and police chief earlier this week.

“All state agencies have worked intensely” to find him, Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero said at a news conference.

In Peru, Prime Minister Pedro Cateriano railed against opposition lawmakers who had suggested that Humala’s government helped him escape.

“What more proof does the opposition need that Humala and Morales were not conspiring to protect him?” Cateriano said.

Peruvian prosecutors have said Belaunde belonged to a vast criminal network with links to public officials.

Humala has repeatedly denied knowing about Belaunde’s purported criminal activities. He said Belaunde was an important adviser during his 2006 campaign and helped with some party activities in 2011 elections.

Belaunde told Peruvian TV channel Canal N by telephone on Tuesday that he was kidnapped while under house arrest and escaped his captors by throwing himself from their car, a version authorities in Bolivia and Peru have dismissed.

“Mr. Belaunde was found in perfect health,” said Romero. “He doesn’t have a scratch on him.”

Reporting By Daniel Ramos in La Paz and Mitra Taj in Lima; Editing by Grant McCool and Ken Wills

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