Guatemala: ex-police head convicted —in Europe

On June 6 a criminal court in Geneva, Switzerland, sentenced Erwin Sperisen ("El Vikingo"), Guatemala's national police chief from 2004 to 2007, to life in prison for his participation in the extrajudicial execution of seven inmates in 2006 during a police operation at the Pavón prison near Guatemala City. Swiss authorities had detained Sperisen, who holds dual Guatemalan and Swiss citizenship, in August 2012 in response to arrest orders Guatemala issued in 2010 following an investigation by the United Nations-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Under Swiss law citizens cannot be extradited, but they can be tried in Switzerland on foreign charges. The Geneva court acquitted Sperisen of three other charges due to lack of evidence; these concerned the killing of three escaped prisoners in October 2005. One of the former police chief's lawyers said the defense would appeal the convictions in the Pavón case.

Sperisen resigned his post and left Guatemala in 2007 after a bizarre series of events starting with the murder of three visiting Salvadoran legislators on Feb. 19 of that year. Four police agents were charged with the killing; they in turn were murdered while in custody, supposedly by other prisoners. Then-interior minister Carlos Vielmann fled Guatemala at the same time. He is now awaiting trial in Spain for his role in the killings at the Pavón prison. (BBC News, June 6; Adital, Brazil, June 9)

In related news, on June 10 the authorities announced the arrest of three former police agents in connection with the murder of anthropologist Myrna Mack Chang on Sept. 11, 1990, four days after she had released a report on abuses by the military. Sgt. Noel de Jesús Beteta was convicted of carrying out the murder in 1993, and in 2002 Col. Juan Valencia Osorio, Beteta's supervisor, was convicted of involvement in the killing. Apparently the three former agents arrested now—Julio David López Aguilar, José Miguel González Grijalva and Alberto Encarnación Barrios Rabanales—are being charged with the Aug. 5, 1991 shooting death of José Miguel Mérida Escobar, a police investigator. Mérida Escobar had reported to a court on his findings in the Mack case shortly before his murder. (Prensa Libre , June 10; Miami Herald, June 10, from AP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 15.