Lopez Rega, Powerful, Mysterious Peronist, Surrenders in Miami
MIAMI (AP) _ A powerful figure of Argentina’s Peron era surrendered to FBI agents Thursday at Miami International Airport nearly 11 years after he fled his South American homeland and was charged with looting its treasury.
Jose Lopez Rega, nicknamed ″El Brujo″ or ″The Wizard″ because of his reputed magical powers and described as Argentina’s Rasputin because of his mysterious influence with the ruling Peron family, was taken by U.S. agents to Miami’s federal courthouse for a hearing before a magistrate on pending Argentine warrants for his arrest.
U.S. Magistrate Charlene Sorrentino, dismissing an attorney’s plea that Lopez Rega be granted bail because of his age and health problems, ordered the 69-year-old former cabinet minister held without bond at the Metropolitan Correctional Institution, pending extradition proceedings.
Her decision was upheld later by Chief Magistrate Peter Palmero, and Lopez Rega was put aboard a federal van with other prisoners being sent to the prison Thursday evening.
Lopez Rega had arranged through lawyers to surrender after federal agents located him in the Bahamas, the FBI said.
Since his disappearance from Argentina in July 1975, there had been rumors there that Lopez Rega was seen in Switzerland, Spain and Panama. The elected Argentine government issued no statements about the arrest.
He was arrested here on Argentine warrants, updated repeatedly since 1975, charging him with fraud, corruption, counterfeiting and theft.
Identified with the far-right wing of the divided Peronist movement, Lopez Riga also has been linked in Argentina to the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance. The shadowy organization persecuted Argentine leftists, who by the thousands became the nation’s ″disappeared ones″ in the 1970s.
He was a close adviser of Juan Peron, the military leader who headed Argentina from 1943 to 1955, and was Peron’s personal aide during his exile in Spain. He accompanied Peron’s triumphant return to Argentina in 1973 and helped Peron’s overwhelming election effort that year.
He was appointed Social Welfare Minister, perhaps the most powerful cabinet post, putting him in charge of lotteries, housing and health services.
When Peron’s wife, Isabel, succeeded him upon his death in 1974, Lopez Rega was widely regarded as the nation’s chief decision-maker. Pressure on Mrs. Peron as strikes and violence tore the country resulted in his departure one year after she became president.
Mrs. Peron was overthrown by the military in 1976. Argentina returned to democratic government seven years later.
Lopez Rega, with gray, receding hair and dressed in a dark business suit, followed the proceedings at the magistrate’s hearing closely, with help from an interpreter.
His attorney, Luis Fors, told Ms. Sorrentino that Lopez Rega showed good faith by coming to Miami to surrender and should be allowed to remain free on bond.
″If he wanted to surrender, why didn’t he go directly to Argentina?″ Ms. Sorrentino replied.
Fors added that Lopez Rega was an old man, and the magistrate asked: ″How old is he?″
At that point, Lopez Rega looked at her and said in English: ″69.″
Ms. Sorrentino said some federal prisoners are 80 years old.
Fors then said Lopez Rega has diabetes and other ailments, but the magistrate responded that U.S. authorities are experienced in caring for prisoners. She also said it is unusual for suspects wanted by another country to be released on bond.