Bad luck continues to dog Sobhraj in Nepal

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu, June 21 (IANS) Bad luck continued to dog crime maestro Charles Sobhraj in Nepal with his final appeal against a life term for murder failing to be heard in the apex court, even after nearly two years.

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The French national, who was arrested from a casino in Kathmandu four years ago and charged with a double murder discovered almost three decades ago, has been steadfastly saying he is innocent and would eventually be released.

Nepal police holds Sobhraj responsible for the death of American backpacker Connie Jo Bronzich and her Canadian travelling companion Laurent Armand Carriere, whose badly burnt bodies were found in two different locations in Kathmandu valley in 1975.

According to police, Sobhraj, who was then based in Bangkok, murdered a Dutch tourist, Henricus Bintaanja, and travelled to Nepal on the slain man's passport.

When he was sighted in Kathmandu in 2003 and slapped with the double murder, Sobhraj denied having come to Nepal before.

Though the Carriere case was dismissed, as police at first could not locate the old case file, the Kathmandu district court however found him guilty of Bronzich's murder on circumstantial evidence and slapped a life term on him.

Though Sobhraj fought against the sentence and hired one of the most high profile and controversial judges in Paris to take up his case, the appellate court too upheld the guilty verdict.

From his dingy, high-security prison cell in Kathmandu, a calm Sobhraj has been marshalling his lawyers for almost two years to make a final appeal in the Supreme Court.

However, Nepal's overworked apex court has yet not found time to hear the appeal of the man whose arrest generated worldwide media attention.

Nepal's long holiday seasons came in the way of registering the appeal, causing a long delay. Once the hearing had to be postponed as his lawyer fell ill and once because the government lawyer had gone abroad.

It was stalled yet again bizarrely because the court clerks had made a mistake and had assigned the hearing to a bench of judges who technically were barred from hearing the case since they had okayed the appeal in.

Finally, the hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, leaving both state and defence lawyers hopeful since it was only the second case scheduled that day.

However, the case preceding Sobhraj's final appeal turned out to be a murder – almost as complicated as the one in 1975. The murder hearing went on for the whole day, resulting in Sobhraj's appeal being postponed yet again.

Sobhraj, who came to Nepal in 2003 professedly to explore making a documentary film and open a mineral water plant, has seen a sea change in Nepal, thanks to the snail's pace in Nepal's courts.

He has seen an elected government toppled by King Gyanendra in a royal coup and the king being ousted in turn.

If the hearing continues to be delayed further, he might end up witnessing the historic election in November when Nepal will put the institution of monarchy to vote for the first time.