Help the refugees

If you move around the world by choice, consider helping those forced from their homes by conflict. Donate to the UN Refugee Agency today.

Home News Guatemalan ex-police chief appeals Swiss life sentence

Guatemalan ex-police chief appeals Swiss life sentence

Published on 11/06/2014

Guatemala's former police chief Erwin Sperisen has appealed against the life sentence he received last week in Switzerland for the murder of seven prisoners in his Central American home country.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Sperisen’s lawyers said the Geneva court ruling had been “riddled with injustice and bias” and that the defence had repeatedly faced hurdles to fighting the charges.

They also slammed what they said was unreliable testimony, notably from a French former inmate who had been serving a murder sentence in a Guatemalan jail where Sperisen committed his crimes.

Sperisen was convicted last Friday after a three-week trial in Geneva.

He was found “jointly responsible” for six murders and was “directly responsible” for one more.

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

But Swiss citizens can be tried at home for crimes committed abroad, and he was charged over the summary execution and subsequent cover-up of the murder of seven inmates in Guatemala’s Pavon jail in September 2006.

Sperisen personally shot one of the prisoners dead, the court ruled.

But it rejected separate charges of involvement in the summary execution of three prisoners who had escaped from another jail 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, based in Geneva, and Sperisen was arrested in the Swiss city in August 2012.

He has been held in jail since then and denied bail as a flight risk.