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Parliamentarians visit jailed Swiss citizens in Guatemala

Nicolas Hänggi (left) and Silvio Giovanoli, pictured at court, are accused of drug dealing

(Keystone)

Members of the Swiss parliament have paid a controversial visit to two jailed Swiss citizens during a week-long trip to Guatemala. Nicolas Hänggi and Silvio Giovanoli are serving prison terms for drug dealing.

Dick Marty and Ruedi Baumann were among eight parliamentarians invited to Guatemala to review the country's needs as it recovers from a 36-year civil war. They announced plans to visit Hänggi and Giovanoli to find out how the two were being treated while they await a retrial.

During the prison visit, Giovanoli reportedly complained about a "lack of support" from the Swiss embassy in Guatemala City.

But, speaking before the visit, the Swiss ambassador, Christian Hauswirth, said the consul was in regular contact with the two inmates and took their case seriously.

The legal saga surrounding the case of Hänggi and Giovanoli has attracted widespread public attention in Switzerland since their arrest in August 1997. The two men, along with Hänggi's father, Andreas - the former manager of Nestlé in Guatemala - were given jail terms of between 12 and 20 years.

But irregularities in the process led to a retrial in which Andreas Hänggi was acquitted. Nicolas Hänggi and Giovanoli had their sentences reduced, but the case has become bogged down in a series of appeals from both the convicts and the authorities.

The Swiss authorities have been following the case closely, and have just commissioned a report from a lawyer in Guatemala to help them assess the situation.

Despite their interest, the authorities do not want to be associated with Baumann and Marty's visit to the jailed Swiss. The foreign ministry said they would be going as private citizens and would get no more official help than any other private visitors.

Questions have also been raised about one of the scheduled meetings on the delegation's agenda. The eight parliamentarians will be holding talks with the man remembered as one of the most ruthless dictators in Central America: Rios Montt.

swissinfo with agencies

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