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Swiss-Guatemalan Former Guatemala police chief Sperisen has life sentence upheld

Erwin Sperisen was head of the Guatemala police until 2007


Erwin Sperisen, the former head of Guatemala’s national police has had his appeal against a lifetime jail sentence denied. He was found guilty of involvement in the murder of ten of Guatemalan prisoners. The original trial took place in June 2014.

The crimes for which he had been on trial occurred between 2005-2006. Sperisen was found guilty in this latest court session of ordering the execution of three prisoners who attempted to escape from a prison centre in November and December 2005. He was accused of asking his subordinates to make it seem as though detainees had clashed with police in three separate incidents before they were shot.

The original judgement of 'guilty' was upheld over Sperisen's involvement in 2006 when seven detainees were executed during the Guatemalan security forces’ attempts to regain control of the Pavon prison, which had been taken over by inmates. The defence had claimed that the prisoners were killed during clashes with the police, but a United Nations commission found they were planned extrajudicial killings.

Tuesday's decision also included a ruling that Sperisen did not pull the trigger himself in one execution, a change from last year's court case.  

“Erwin Sperisen is clearly innocent of the charges against him. There is no proof whatsoever that he had given any form of criminal order,” said Florian Baier, one of the two defence lawyers.

“We will appeal in the Swiss Supreme Court, and if necessary in the European Court of Human Rights,” Baier added.

Sperisen has dual Swiss-Guatemalan citizenship and was arrested in August 2012, while living in Geneva. He had moved to Switzerland after resigning from the police force in 2007. He inherited his Swiss citizenship from his father, and was tried in Geneva as Switzerland does not extradite its citizens.

Alexandra López, who represented a part of the plaintiffs in the trial – the mother of one of the victims assassinated in Pavón – said the judgement “is of major importance for the victims’ families”.

“This verdict is also a message from Geneva that those responsible for these extrajudicial executions understand that criminals are not kept in Switzerland or in any other European country, without justice being served,” said Lopez.

At the time, judges said Sperisen had played a major role in the killings due to his rank. 

With input from Patricia Islas, and agencies

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