Drugs trial of Swiss men resumes in Guatemala

The trial in Guatemala involving two Swiss men accused of drugs trafficking, Silvio Giovanoli and Nicolas Hänggi, has resumed. It had been adjourned last week because of the absence of two of the defendants.

This content was published on July 31, 2000 - 22:05

On Monday, one of the defendants, José Luis Zebadua - head of police in the town of Antigua, where Hänggi lived - appeared in court, along with Hänggi and Giovanoli.

The two Swiss men are serving prison sentences in Guatemala. The latest proceedings were ordered because of legal shortcomings in the highly controversial first trial in September 1998.

According to the Swiss ambassador in Guatemala, Christian Hauswirth, the proceedings should not last more than three days. He added that he expected the sentences to be handed down within a couple of weeks.

The two Swiss were among five people arrested in 1997 on suspicion of trying to smuggle cocaine worth $100 million to Europe in containers carrying ornamental flowers. They have consistently maintained their innocence.

Andreas Hänggi, father of Nicolas, who left Guatemala after being freed from detention, is a former executive for the Swiss food multinational, Nestlé.

All those arrested received sentences of up to 20 years and large fines in the first trial in 1988. The verdicts temporarily strained ties between Guatemala and Switzerland, which complained that the legal proceedings did not meet international standards.

In February 1999 an appeal court revised the sentences and freed Andreas Hänggi and two other defendants. They subsequently left the country. But Hänggi's son, Nicolas, and Giovanoli remained in prison, although their sentences were reduced - to three and five years respectively.

Defence lawyers claimed police botched the investigation. And there were also allegations the Guatemalan authorities launched the case to demonstrate the success of their drive against drugs trafficking to the United States.

In a further twist last October, Guatemala's High Court ordered a retrial, ruling that crucial documents had been missing.

swissinfo with agencies

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