Hänggi and Giovanoli must stay jailed

A Guatamalan appeal court has ordered the re-trial of two Swiss men convicted on drugs charges. Lawyers had called for the immediate release of Nicolas Hänggi (right) and Silvio Giovanoli (left), who will stay jailed pending the new trial's outcome.

This content was published on March 30, 2000 - 22:53

An appeal court in Guatemala has ordered a re-trial of two Swiss men convicted for drug-related crimes. Defence lawyers had hoped the court would order the immediate release of Nicolas Hänggi (pictured right) and Silvio Giovanoli (pictured left), but they will now remain imprisoned until the outcome of the new trial.

The court said the judicial process should begin again at the lowest level court, which effectively takes the defendants back to the start of their route through the legal system.

The legal saga began in August 1997, when the pair, and Hänggi's father, Andreas, were arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle 13 kilogrammes of cocaine out of the country. The defendants rejected the allegations and said they were set up.

In an initial ruling in September 1998, a court sentenced them to prison terms of up to 20 years and hefty fines. The decision strained relations between Guatemala and Switzerland, which complained that the legal proceedings did not meet international standards. At the same time, the defence lawyer accused the presiding judge of sexual harassment.

In February 1999, a Guatemalan Appeals Court revised the sentences and ordered Andreas Hänggi, a former manager of the food multi-national, Nestlé, to be released. He immediately left the country and now lives in Argentina. Hänggi's son, Nicolas, and Silvio Giovanoli, saw their sentences reduced to three and five years respectively, with the possibility of paying a fine instead of serving the remaining jail term.

But in a further twist, Guatemala's High Court last October annulled the rulings and sent the case back to the Appeals Court. Judges in the town of Zacapa, northwest of the capital, Guatemala-City, now have to reconsider the entire matter.

The defence lawyers had demanded the immediate release of Hänggi and Giovanoli. They claimed police botched the investigations. The two men were trading in ornamental flowers together with a German business partner who was convicted in Germany of drug trafficking. A former Guatemalan police officer and a German hotel owner were also implicated in the case, but were freed due to insufficient evidence.

swissinfo and agencies

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