Meet the Fujimoris: Peru power family with a dark past

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Lima (AFP) - The father is in jail for crimes against humanity. Uncles and aunts have fled corruption charges. And the daughter? She's tipped to follow in dad's footsteps by becoming president.

The Fujimoris may look like one of Peru's most dysfunctional families, but they are also one of its most powerful.

Although ex-president Alberto Fujimori, 77, is in jail and in frail health, his children are looking to cement a dynasty.

His daughter Keiko, 41, leads the opinion polls as she seeks to become Peru's first female president in a presidential runoff election this coming Sunday.

That is despite -- or because of -- the violence and drama of Alberto Fujimori's time as leader, and in his own family.

Keiko's mother Susana Higuchi divorced him in 1994. She later accused his men of torturing her.

After the divorce, Keiko Fujimori took over as the nation's first lady at the age of 19.

"She has remained among the most popular figures in Peruvian politics since then," Maria Luisa Puig, a Latin America analyst at the Eurasia Group consultancy, wrote in a note last month.

During his 1990-2000 rule, Fujimori boosted the economy and all-but stamped out an armed guerrilla insurgency -- but with methods that landed him in jail.

Convicted of corruption, he is now serving a 25-year sentence after a court in 2009 also found him responsible for massacres of leftist opponents.

The memory of his leadership looms over Peruvians, for better or worse.

"Despite being in jail, he remains very popular in some areas due to his fight against the Shining Path guerrilla, economic recovery and clientelist policies during his administration," Puig wrote.

The soap opera within the Fujimori family matched the drama of that turbulent decade.

Shortly after their divorce, Higuchi ran against Alberto Fujimori in an election in 1995. But he blocked her by passing a law prohibiting presidents' close family members from succeeding them directly in office.

Keiko Fujimori has rejected her mother's claims as "myths."

Although Higuchi Fujimori has appeared at some of her daughter's recent campaign events, they are not reputed to have warm relations.

- Family business -

Peruvians refer to them affectionately although inaccurately as "the Chinese" -- Keiko is "la China" and her father "El Chino."

The Fujimoris are actually among the thousands of families of Japanese descent in Peru following waves of economic immigration.

Alberto Fujimori's sisters, Juana and Rosa, and his brother Pedro all went on the run from embezzlement charges.

The sisters fled to Japan and Pedro to the United States, where the family says he died three years ago.

Keiko's brother Kenji, the youngest of the ex-president's children, is now a member of Congress after having won more votes than any other deputy in elections in April.

He has made it clear he wants to be president himself one day, too.

The elder of Keiko's two younger brothers, Hiro, recently returned to Peru from a spell in Japan.

He has joined the boards of two companies in which his brother Kenji holds shares.

The last of the Fujimori children, Sachi, has stayed away from politics. She is an architect.

- A real Fujimori? -

Keiko Fujimori would win 46 of the vote on Sunday against 40.6 percent for her opponent, center-right economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a poll published by Ipsos on Sunday indicated.

In the first-round election on April 10, Fujimori took 40 percent of the vote to Kuczynski's 21 percent. Leftist challenger Veronika Mendoza was eliminated, leaving the 19-percent share of the vote she won up for grabs.

Analysts said Keiko Fujimori lost the 2011 presidential election because she alienated many voters by proposing to pardon her father. She has since kept quiet about what she might do about him.

But her victory in April's first-round vote was too narrow for her to win without a runoff, reflecting divisions among Peruvians over Alberto Fujimori's legacy.

"He got rid of terrorism, that's why people like him," said one voter, 27-year-old Lima taxi driver Mario Armando Callupe.

But Callupe said he would vote for Kuczynski because the 77-year-old has more experience than "La China."

"A lot of people confuse her with her father," he said. "But she is not the real Fujimori."

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