Charles Sobhraj’s fate put off till July 30
While the rest of his family and friends celebrated Bastille Day in Paris, Charles Sobhraj had the walls of the Kathmandu prison close in on him again Wednesday as the Supreme Court again put off his appeal on a murder sentence.
Kathmandu: While the rest of his family and friends celebrated Bastille Day in Paris, Charles Sobhraj had the walls of the Kathmandu prison close in on him again Wednesday as the Supreme Court again put off his appeal on a murder sentence.
The two judges of Nepal`s Supreme Court hearing his appeal against the 20-year life term slapped on him in 2004 sought more time to pronounce their judgment, saying they had not been able to sift through the written arguments and accompanying documents tabled by the prosecution as well as Sobhraj`s lawyers.
Judges Ram Prasad Shah and Gouri Dhakal have now postponed the verdict to July 30.
This is the third time since Sobhraj took his appeal to the apex court that the verdict was postponed. During its passage from the district court to the top court, it was halted interminably due to deaths, general strikes, a royal coup and curfew and weddings.
The morning had started on a hopeful note for Sobhraj`s extended family in Kathmandu who had hoped the court would deliver its final verdict, for better or worse.
"There`s no loophole left now for the judges to refer the case to lower courts and there`s no evidence to support s guilty verdict," said an optimistic Nihita Biswas, Sobhraj`s fiancée, who had been attending the trial faithfully with her brother Vijay.
Nihita was referring to the earlier postponements after the judges asked the lower courts to reopen a dismissed forged passport case for a decisive answer on whether Sobhraj had come to Nepal in 1975 and murdered Connie Jo Bronzich, an American tourist with a taste for adventure and drugs.
The announcement left Nihita speechless. There was no immediate reaction from Sobhraj, who was not present in court, preferring to wait for the news in his cell at the Central Jail in Kathmandu.
The resurrection of the 1975 murder has been probably the most sensational Nepal has ever witnessed.
In December 1975, two badly charred bodies were found in different parts of Kathmandu valley.
The body of the woman, who was first stabbed to death, was identified as that of Bronzich, whose husband and boyfriends had died under violent circumstances in the US.
The second body, that of a male, could not be identified. Police conjectured it could have been that of a Canadian tourist, Laurent Armand Carriere, who had shacked up with Bronzich in Kathmandu.
Police say Sobhraj came to Nepal from Bangkok same year, befriended Bronzich for some gems she had bought in India and killed her.
Sobhraj says he never came to Nepal before 2003, when he arrived as a bona fide entrepreneur to explore various ventures, ranging from making documentaries for his Paris-based Gentleman Films company to starting a mineral water business.
On September 17, 16 days after his arrival, a local daily carried his photograph, which alerted the police who traced him to a casino and arrested him.
Initially, police charged him with having come to Nepal in 1975 on a forged passport.
But as the court acquitted him, he was re-arrested from the court premises and charged with the murder of Bronzich.
Sobhraj says after arresting him in 2003, police held him incommunicado for two days. During the time, under the pretext of examining some documents, they made him write several pages. "Later, they used part of that writing to forge the so-called evidence," he says.
In 2005, the Patan Appellate Court upheld the guilty verdict, the first time ever he was convicted of murder though there were allegations that he had killed between 12 to 32 people in various Asian countries.
Since 2006, he has been appealing against the sentence in Nepal`s Supreme Court. The trial generated fresh interest worldwide after he became engaged in 2008 to Nihita, 44 years his junior and the daughter of his lawyer Shakuntala Thapa.
Sobhraj, confident that he would be acquitted, had plans to visit the gurdwara in Lalitpur town to offer a thanksgiving.
His business partner, French lawyer and other associates were to have arrived in Kathmandu Thursday to escort him safely back to Paris since he said he feared for his life.
Now, like twice before, the plans and flights will have to be rescheduled.
Thapa said their double campaign for justice will receive a boost end of this month.
In March 2009, Sobhraj`s French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee, saying Sobhraj was imprisoned in Nepal without a fair trial and on forged documents.
The Human Rights Court in Geneva will start hearing the complaint from July 25.