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Originally published May 13, 2013 at 6:47 AM | Page modified May 13, 2013 at 8:22 AM

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Ex-Guatemalan cop faces murder charges in Austria

Austrian prosecutors have charged a former senior Guatemalan police official with murder in connection with the shooting deaths of seven prison inmates in his homeland, authorities announced Monday.

Associated Press

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VIENNA —

Austrian prosecutors have charged a former senior Guatemalan police official with murder in connection with the shooting deaths of seven prison inmates in his homeland, authorities announced Monday.

Prosecutor Alois Ebner said Javier Figueroa, the ex-deputy chief of a division of Guatemala's national police, has been charged in connection with events that go back to Sept. 25, 2006. He will be tried in Austria as opposed to being extradited to Guatemala.

More than 3,000 police and soldiers back then retook the Pavon prison farm - Guatemala's largest - from inmates who ran a crack cocaine lab inside and rented out plush homes on the grounds to fellow prisoners.

Seven inmates were killed, and authorities then said they died after putting up a fight. Legal officials said the Austrian indictment charges that they were unarmed and were specifically targeted, dying after being shot at close range.

Figueroa, 42, has been in Austrian investigative custody since 2011, when he was arrested in connection with the deaths. He, his wife and three children had been living in the village of Wernstein am Inn, near the upper Austrian town of Schaerding, since 2007 after being granted asylum on grounds of alleged political persecution at home.

Figueroa denies wrongdoing. Were he tried and found guilty in Guatemala, he could be sentenced to 50 years in prison - the maximum penalty for extra-judicial killings.

In Austria, a life sentence often means release from prison after 20 years. Austrian authorities say Figueroa will not be extradited to his home country because there are doubts he would face a fair trial there.

Guatemala is rife with corruption, often involving police and legal officials. Much of the country is controlled by drug gangs and other criminals and a large majority of murders go unsolved.

Others allegedly involved in the prisoner killings face legal proceedings in Spain and Switzerland.

The case against Figueroa and others was first investigated by the U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG in Spanish, launched in 2007 at Guatemala's request to dismantle illegal security groups and to end criminal impunity.

CICIG has since come under fire as cases such as the Pavon prison farm have implicated senior Guatemalan officials.

Ebner said nine witnesses from Guatemala will testify in the trial, tentatively set to start in the fall. Documents presented by the prosecution will include written testimony from 54 witnesses and the results of autopsies performed on the victims.

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