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Guatemala high court annuls prison for 3 Russian migrants

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GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemala’s highest court has overturned a prison conviction for three Russians who were accused of using forged documents and claim to be the victim of a plot orchestrated by Moscow.

The three members of the Bitkov family came to the Central American nation in 2009. In 2015 they were detained on various charges related to the alleged falsification of documents to win residency.

Igor, the father, was sentenced to 19 years, while his wife, Irina, and daughter Anastasia got 14 apiece on Jan. 18, 2018, along with 36 others alleged to belong to an organized crime network that sold falsified documents.

Their family’s defense has said they are innocent and argues that the process against them is part of something more complex that could potentially embarrass the Russian government — an allegation for which their lawyer has offered no evidence.

The Russian Embassy declined to immediately comment on the case, saying it would respond later to questions from The Associated Press.

On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court ruled that the trial judge did not have a firm enough basis for his decision to convict the Bitkovs. It annulled the sentence and ordered the case to be reconsidered beginning at the point where they were accused.

For now, the Russians will remain in prison, the same one where former President Otto Perez Molina and other ex-officials are being held on accusations of corruption. The high court’s decision did not order them freed while prosecutors reconsider the case and decide whether to seek a retrial.

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