Guatemalan policeman cleared of prison murder in Austrian trial

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 10, 2013 11:42 AM

VIENNA (Reuters) - A former police official in Guatemala was cleared of abetting the murder of seven prisoners on Thursday at a trial in Austria, which has granted him political asylum.

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

Figueroa had denied the charges, which carry a punishment of up to life in prison. He broke down in tears as the verdict came in, the Austria Press Agency reported from the courtroom.

"I can confirm that he was cleared," a spokesman for local prosecutors said, adding it was not yet known if prosecutors would appeal against the verdict.

Figueroa fled to Austria in 2007 with his family. He faced 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 Guatemalan 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.

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," he told the court.

The 13-day jury trial featured more than 10,000 pages of files and 50 hours of video testimony.

(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Mark Heinrich)