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Guatemala’s ex-police chief gets life sentence in Switzerland

June 6, 2014

GENEVA — Guatemala’s former police chief Erwin Sperisen on Friday received a life sentence in Switzerland for seven murders committed in the Central American country.

Reading out the verdict in a packed Geneva court, the chief judge Isabelle Cuendet said Sperisen had been found “jointly responsible” for six murders and was “directly responsible” for one more.

One of Sperisen’s lawyers said the ruling was “shocking” and announced that his client would appeal.

Sperisen, 43, holds Swiss and Guatemalan citizenship and, having left his homeland for Geneva, could not be extradited to stand trial for murdering prisoners in the mid-2000s.

But under Swiss law, any citizen of the Alpine country can be tried at home for crimes committed abroad.

The trial opened at Geneva’s court on May 15.

Sperisen, who insisted he was innocent, was charged over the summary execution and subsequent cover-up of the murder of inmates in a jail in 2006, and of escaped prisoners in 2005.

Appointed police chief in 2004, he left Guatemala in 2007 amid a scandal that saw him and the country’s interior minister Carlos Vielmann resign that March.

Sperisen’s paternal grandfather was a Swiss immigrant to Guatemala, giving him the right to Swiss citizenship.

His father is Guatemala’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization, which is based in Geneva, and Sperisen was arrested in the city in August 2012.

He has been in jail since then, with Geneva justice authorities arguing that there was too great a risk that he would flee Switzerland if was released on bail.

Sperisen’s former right-hand man, Javier Figueroa, was called as a witness in the case.

Figueroa was prosecuted by Austrian justice authorities on similar charges, and acquitted in 2013.

Former interior minister Vielmann, who holds dual Guatemalan and Spanish citizenship, now lives in Spain and is due to be tried by a court there over the prisoner killings.

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