Guatemalan policeman denies role in prison murder in Austrian trial

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 10, 2013 11:02 AM

VIENNA (Reuters) - A former police official in Guatemala pleaded not guilty to abetting the murder of seven prisoners as his trial opened on Tuesday in Austria, which has granted him political asylum.

The case centers on whether Javier Figueroa, 42, took part in summary executions of inmates in 2006 when security forces stormed the infamous Pavon jail, which prisoners had controlled for years.

Figueroa denies the charges, which carry punishment of up to life in prison, his defense attorney Benno Wageneder said.

Figueroa fled to Austria in 2007 with his family. He faces trial in the Upper Austrian town of Ried im Innkreis because Austrian authorities refused to send him home to face the charges, ruling he was not assured of a fair trial there.

Around 3,000 soldiers and police officers supported by helicopters raided Pavon, a sprawling prison farm where inmates lived in private houses furnished with luxury goods and controlled by organized crime rings from inside.

Shortly after dawn, police cut through the perimeter fence and entered the prison. An hour later they had seized control and seven inmates, including the head of the committee that controlled the jail, were dead.

Guatemalan authorities said the seven put up heavily armed resistance and died in a shoot-out. No police were wounded.

Under heavy guard but smiling, Figueroa told the court he was responsible for genetic and forensic testing as a senior police official in the Central American country, where he witnessed repeated cases of police corruption.

"I made enemies," the Austria Press Agency quoted him as saying.

The jury trial, which features more than 10,000 pages of files and 50 hours of video testimony, is scheduled to run until October 8.

(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Angus MacSwan)