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Swiss men appeal against drug convictions in Guatemala

Nicolas Hänggi and Silvio Giovanoli are seeking to overturn a conviction for drug trafficking

(swissinfo.ch)

A court in Guatemala has begun hearing an appeal by two Swiss men, serving sentences for drug trafficking. Nicolas Hänggi and Silvio Giovanoli are seeking to overturn their convictions for smuggling cocaine to Europe.

The appeal is the latest twist in a long-running legal saga, which began in 1997, when the two men were arrested on suspicion of smuggling cocaine worth $100 million (SFr175 million) to Europe in containers carrying ornamental flowers.

They were convicted the following year, along with three others, and sentenced to prison terms of up to 20 years.

After appeals by both the defendants and the Guatemalan authorities, three of the defendants were freed, including Hänggi's father, Andreas, a former executive for the Swiss food giant, Nestlé.

Hänggi and Giovanoli were then re-tried in August 2000, and had their sentences reduced to 12 years.

Lawyers for the two men maintain that police in Guatemala botched the original investigation, and accuse the authorities of having launched the case to demonstrate the success of their drive against drugs trafficking to the United States.

The court of appeal in Guatemala is expected to make its final ruling on the case within the next 10 days.

Analysts say there are several possible outcomes of the latest appeal: The court may uphold the conviction of last August, it may reduce the 12-year sentence handed down at that time, or it may free the men unconditionally.

It is also possible that the court will call for yet another complete re-trial of the case.

swissinfo with agencies

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