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German court upholds Colonia Dignidad sentence

August 14, 2017

A German man who fled Chile after being sentenced to five years in prison for child sex abuse must serve his sentence in Germany. Hartmut Hopp was part of the notorious Colonia Dignidad enclave.

Chile Villa Baviera - Colonia Dignidad
Image: Picture alliance/dpa/M. Hernandez

Harmut Hopp - who helped run the notorious Colonia Dignidad colony in Chile - must serve the five-year jail sentence handed to him by a Chilean judge, a German court in Krefeld ruled on Monday.

Hopp was sentenced in Chile back in 2011 for 16 counts of aiding the sexual abuse of children over several decades. However, he managed to flee to Germany before the sentence took legal effect, living freely in the western town of Krefeld.

Read more: Chile, Germany establish Colonia Dignidad commission

After Germany rejected Chile's extradition request, a legal tug-of-war between the two states ensued. In 2013, once Hopp's sentence had taken full effect, the Chilean judiciary requested that the sentence be carried over to Germany, in what is known as an "exequatur proceeding."

The Krefeld prosecutor's office brought the Chilean judiciary's request before the court in Krefeld in 2016. The court ultimately decided on Monday that the original verdict fulfilled Germany's constitutional principals.

The Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights welcomed the decision, saying that German justice had finally "offered the minimal amount of expected support in processing the crimes committed at Colonia Dignidad, especially the rape and sexual abuse of minors."

Hopp's attorneys said he plans to appeal the ruling, which will be heard before the Higher Regional Court in Düsseldorf at a yet-to-be confirmed date.

Right-hand man for sect founder

Hopp is widely thought to have been among the closest associates of Paul Schäfer, the founder of the Colonia Dignidad enclave. 

Schäfer, a German lay preacher, former Nazi soldier and convicted pedophile, fled Germany to Chile after World War II and founded the colony in the 1960s. Located in a remote mountainous region around 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the capital Santiago, the colony was intended to project an image of harmonious and communal living. At its peak, hundreds of German immigrants resided there.

Read more: Gauck regrets German inaction over abuse at German colony in Chile

However, allegations of child sex abuse soon emerged, after a number of former residents managed to escape the heavily-guarded enclave. However, Colonia Dignidad was allowed to continue to run with relative impunity, thanks to key political links enjoyed by its leaders. As well as being the scene for decades of child sex abuse, reports later uncovered that Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet had used the colony to torture and kill political dissidents. Residents are alleged to have taken part in the torture.

Following Chile's democratic transition in 1990, officials began investigating the alleged abuses. Schäfer fled to Argentina after child sex abuse charges were filed against him. He wasn't arrested until 2005, and was finally sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2006. He died in prison four years later at the age 88.

Colonia Dignidad - one victim's fight for justice

dm/rc (dpa, AP, AFP, epd)