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Two Swiss men handed 12 year sentence in Guatemala drug trial

Nicolas Hänggi (left) and Silvio Giovanoli (right) during the July stage of their trial Keystone

Two Swiss citizens accused of drug trafficking in Guatemala have been sentenced to 12 years behind bars. The verdict was more lenient than that sought by the prosecution.

On Friday, the public prosecutor sought to have Silvio Giovanoli and Nicolas Hänggi jailed for 20 years, and fined SFr800,000, the same penalty decided at a first trial two years ago.

Judges in Puerto Barrios, however, chose to hand them a sentence of just over half the number of years requested, and to fine them only SFr12,000.

The men were sentenced in 1998, but a retrial was ordered after the high court found that crucial information had not been presented at the original hearing.

The two were in court this week for the second time. They were convicted after a first trial in 1998, and had their sentences reduced following an appeal. They are back in front of the judge after Guatemala’s High Court found that crucial documents had been missing the first time around and ordered a retrial.

The defendants were arrested along with three others in 1997 on suspicion of trying to smuggle cocaine worth $100 million (SFr175 million) to Europe in containers carrying ornamental flowers. One of three others detained was Hänggi’s father, Andreas, then an executive for the Swiss food multinational, Nestlé.

Those arrested received sentences of up to 20 years in prison and large fines in the first trial in 1998. In February 1999, an appellate court overturned the verdicts for three of the accused, freeing Andreas Hänggi, and reducing the sentences of the two young Swiss men to three and five years respectively.

Defence lawyers claim the police botched the investigation. There have also been allegations that the Guatemalan authorities launched the case to demonstrate to the United States the success of their drive against drug trafficking.

swissinfo and agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR