A political exile quizzed by police over crimes against humanity and torture in his native Peru has been named as a local restaurant owner called Rodrigo Grande.
Mr Grande, 46, is known by many in rural Tiverton, Devon as a ”polite” and ”respectful” man who regularly chats to locals who visit his Il Gatto Nero restaurant in the town.
But last week he was taken into custody at nearby Exeter police station and quizzed for his alleged role in the torture and murder of over a hundred Peruvian civilians in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The alleged crimes are said to have taken place when government-backed death squads moved to quash the brutal Maoist insurgent movement known as the Shining Path.
Stunned locals watched in disbelief as Metropolitan Police officers swooped on his restaurant and nearby home seizing computer equipment and mobile phones.
He was quizzed by officers for around two days before being released and bailed to return to a London police station in July.
When confronted over the alleged crimes, Mr Grande protested his innocence adding. “They wanted to speak to me about when I worked as a police officer in Peru.
”I have done nothing. I have done nothing.”
His arrest and extraordinary nature of his alleged crimes has stunned locals in the town, including his landlord Tony Hendy, who rents out both his flat and restaurant in a joint tenancy agreement.
Speaking yesterday, Mr Hendy, 56, said: ”I’ve known Rodrgio for around 18 months and can honestly say he’s really nice guy.
”He’s very unassuming and polite and is extremely respectful, even when I’m giving him a roasting about his rent being late.
”To think he would be involve din something like this laughable.”
After his arrest on Tuesday (15/3) Rodrigo shut up shop and ”disappeared”, with some believing he had ‘done a runner’.
Mr Hendy added: ”I didn’t know where he’d gone. In the end I put a padlock over the door with a note telling him to call me.
”Then he came back and saw me in the street and said, ‘I’m sorry. I’ve been with the police. They’ve been asking me questions for two days’.
”He said they’d been grilling him but that he’d done nothing wrong and frankly I believe him.”
Nearby resident Grace Tennant, 60, said: ”People are very surprised indeed by the news.
“Not a lot happens here.”
A 43-year-old male customer of his restaurant, who wished to remain anonymous, said yesterday: ”I come here quite regularly and was aghast when I heard what had happened.
”It doesn’t seem possible that he would be mixed up in something like this.
”He has never mentioned his past but then why would he I guess.”
Rodrigo moved to the town around 18 months ago, when he took control of the Il Gatto Nero restaurant, telling locals he was of Peruvian Italian descent.
Since then, he has lived in a flat in nearby Barrington Street, which he rents from Mr Hendy and works ”all hours” at the restaurant, which is just a matter of yards away.
Mr Grande rents his house through the restaurant as a business property, which means Mr Hendy does not keep separate tenancy agreements with everyone who might be living at the property at any one time.
Police questioned someone living at the address a year ago, who Mr Hendy believes to have been a second Peruvian.
He said several people had come and gone from the property in the time Mr Grande had been renting it. Mr Grande’s brother now runs a second Il Gatto Nero in Truro, Cornwall.
On Tuesday, officers from the Met police swooped on the restaurant and his home, seizing documents, computers and mobile phones before quizzing Mr Grande for two days over his alleged involvement in the murder and torture of over 100 people in his native Peru.
Mr Grande’s arrest was made possible after a change in the law last year which extended the historical cut-off point – from 2001 to 1991 – for war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide.
Police have searched his rented properties. Officials would not divulge the conditions of Mr Grande’s bail, but a suspect would typically have to surrender his passport.
His arrest resulted from information passed on by the UK Border Agency’s War Crimes Unit.
Mr Hendy added: ”I’ve spoken with Rodrigo over his arrest and he’s very calm about it all.
”He says he’s done nothing wrong and I believe him as I know him to be a very hard working man who keeps his head down and gets on with life.”
Hostilities were at their height in the 1980s in Peru, when civil war led to the death or disappearance of 70,000 people between 1980 and 2000.
Maoist fighters traded atrocities with government forces in an attempt to establish a socialist state.
Shining Path was founded in the 1960s by Abimael Guzmain, a former professor of philosophy at Huamanga University in Peru.
It gained influence over students and launched military campaigns in 1980. It is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of civilians and Peruvian troops, but several thousand of its own number, and just as many civilians, were killed as the government fought back.
Guzmain was jailed for life in 2006 for aggravated terrorism and murder.
He is incarcerated in a subterranean cell at Callao naval base near Lima.
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