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Guatemalan court case against Swiss men is adjourned

Swiss defendants Nicolas Hänggi (left) and Silvio Giovanoli in court Keystone

A trial in Guatemala, involving three Swiss men accused of drugs trafficking, was adjourned for six days shortly after it opened on Tuesday. The decision was made due to the absence of two of the defendants.

This content was published on July 26, 2000 - 10:33

Three of the accused, the Swiss, Silvio Giovanoli and Nicolas Hänggi, who are serving prison sentences in Guatemala, and a Guatemalan co-defendant, Luis Solares, were present at the courtroom in the town of Izabal.

In announcing the adjournment, the court's president, José Pazos, pointed out that the father of Nicolas Hänggi, Andreas, was absent as was the German, Joachim Schilling.

Pazos said: "An international arrest warrant has been issued for the missing men."

Tuesday's proceedings had been ordered because of legal shortcomings in the highly controversial first trial.

The two Swiss, Nicolas Hänggi and Giovanoli, 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, 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 big fines in the first trial in September 1988. The verdicts temporarily strained bilateral 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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