In early 2008, criminal suits against Erwin Sperisen were filed to the Office of the Prosecutor of the Canton of Geneva (OPCG) by several Swiss organizations, including TRIAL International, as Sperisen’s was present on Swiss territory.
On 6 August 2010, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) issued an arrest warrant against Sperisen and other 17 suspects and charged them with participation in a joint criminal enterprise in order to murder prisoners in El Infiernito and Pavón detention centres.
On 20 April 2011, the OPCG sent a rogatory letter to Guatemala to investigate the killings occurred between 2004-2007.
On 31 August 2012, Sperisen was arrested by the Swiss authorities in Geneva and detained in Champ Dollon prison. He was charged with:
– planning, ordering or committing the murder of seven inmates on 25 September 2006 and evidence tampering during the police operation in the Pavón prison;
– planning, ordering or committing the murder of a prisoner escaped from El Infernito detention centre on 3 November 2005 and evidence tampering in execution of the Gavilan plan; and
– planning, ordering or committing the murder of two prisoners escaped from El Infiernito detention centre on 1 December 2005 in execution of the Gavilan plan.
In March 2013, the mother of one of the victims filed a complaint and joined the criminal procedure. 14 witnesses travelled from Spain, France and Guatemala in order to be heard by the Swiss authorities.
On 15 May 2014, the trial started before the Geneva Criminal Court. Sperisen pleaded not guilty.
During the trial, around 20 witnesses appeared before the Court including a French eyewitness who was a former inmate of the Pavón prison, representatives of the Guatemalan military and police, CCIG’s investigators, a forensic pathologist, Sperisen’s subordinates in the PNC, and the former Mayor of Guatemala City. The OPCG requested a life imprisonment for Sperisen.
The Defence requested Sperisen’s acquittal on the assertion that all the incriminating testimonies heard during the trial were false.
On 6 June 2014, Sperisen was convicted of being a co-perpetrator in the commission of six murders and a direct perpetrator of one murder in the Pavón detention centre near Guatemala City. He was sentenced to life-imprisonment due to the gravity of the acts, the number of victims, the defendant’s lack of empathy and lack of awareness of the seriousness of his actions.
However, Sperisen was acquitted on the charges of murders in relation to the killings of El Infiernito prison escapees pursuant to the Gavilan plan. The judges decided that the t evidence was insufficient.
Sperisen appealed the judgment. The appeal trial took place between the 4 and 8 May 2015 before the Criminal Chamber of Appeal and Revision of Geneva.
On 12 May 2015, in the operative part of the decision, the Geneva Court of Appeal rejected Sperisen’s appeal and upheld the murder conviction and life-imprisonment sentence. The sentence was officially published in its judgment of the 12 July 2015. Following the verdict of the first instance, the Chamber sentenced Sperisen for the seven extra-judicial killings committed in the Pavon detention centre. Moreover, the Chamber of Appeal identified enough proofs to declare Sperisen guilty of the murder of three escapees from El Infiernito prison. The Chamber convicted Sperisen as a co-perpetrator in the killings but has refused to declare him the direct perpetrator of the acts.
On 12 July 2015, Sperisen appealed the decision to the Swiss Federal Court claiming several violations of his fair trial rights. Specifically, the defendant claimed procedural violations in the hearing of witnesses; insufficient reasoning in the judgement and arbitrary evaluation of evidence.
On 12 June 2017, the Swiss Federal Court rejected his request for parole.
On 29 June 2017, the Swiss Federal Court overturned the judgment of the Criminal Chamber of Appeal and Revision of Geneva and ordered a re-trial. The federal judges recognized that extrajudicial executions were indeed committed by a commando composed of police forces. However, they considered that procedural flaws took place, in particular concerning the hearing of witnesses. These flaws could have violated the defendant’s right to fair trial.
On 19 July 2017, the Court of Appeal of Geneva refused to release Sperisen on the basis of the seriousness of the well-founded accusations and the continuing risk of absconding.
On 20 September 2017, the Swiss Federal Court allowed the release of Erwin Sperisen pending his re-trial. On 25 September 2017, he was released and placed under house arrest.
On 11 October 2017, Sperisen filed a new motion requesting the recusal of the Judge Cambi Favre-Bulle, Presiding judge of the Court of Appeal. On 3 November 2017, his motion was rejected. Sperisen appealed this decision to the Swiss Federal Tribunal.
His new trial took place in April 2018 in Geneva. The public prosecutor requested a life imprisonment for his alleged participation in 2006 in the assassination of several detainees in the Pavon prison. Alternatively, the prosecutor requested 15 years of imprisonment for Erwin Sperisen in case the court decided to convict him merely for complicity in these murders. The defense pleaded for his acquittal.
On 27 April 2018, the judges of the Criminal Chamber of Appeal and Revision of Geneva convicted Erwin Sperisen to a penalty of 15 years of-imprisonment. They found him guilty of complicity in the extra-judicial killings of seven inmates of the Pavon prison. Following this judgment, Erwin Sperisen has not been detained but substitutive measures which were decided upon by the Swiss Federal Court on 20 September 2017, have been maintained. He is therefore serving his sentence under house arrest.
He appealed the decision to the Swiss Federal Court.