I was persecuted, Sobhraj tells Nepal judges

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu : As Nepal’s apex court delivers the final verdict on Charles Sobhraj, one of yesteryear’s most talked about criminals now languishing in a Kathmandu prison for the alleged murder of an American backpacker, the French national has joined his lawyers to argue his case.

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In a 17-page written argument submitted to the two judges who will deliver the decisive verdict Sunday, Sobhraj says he had no connection with the murder of Connie Jo Bronzich, whose body was found near Kathmandu’s airport in 1975. Sobhraj wants to be “acquitted and released and permitted to go back to my own country”.

Sobhraj, a legal whiz with the law of several countries at his fingertips, has reminded the judges that Nepal has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which says an accused should be tried without “improper influences”.

However, the 63-year-old says that Nepal police filed a string of cases against him “mainly on the basis of newspaper reports” and that “a section of the Nepali media was mobilised with fake information to create a climate of prejudice and discrimination … which amounts more to persecution than prosecution”.

To support his charge, Sobhraj, who denies having come to Nepal in 1975, says that the district court — that in 2004 sentenced him to life imprisonment for Bronzich’s murder — based its verdict on newspaper reports, books written about him by others, “non-proved documents” and “non-authenticated photocopies” without bothering to call a single eyewitness.

One of the main “evidences” produced by the state that clinched his conviction by the district court was an earlier sentence by a sessions court in Varanasi, India, sending him to prison for 20 years for the death of an Israeli tourist.

However, the prosecutors ignored the subsequent acquittals of Sobhraj by the Uttaar Pradesh High Court in Allahabad and the Indian Supreme Court that ruled the tourist had died of an overdose of self-injected drugs.

Sobhraj has also rejected the prosecution’s claim that he confessed to the murder to Indian police who arrested him in 1976.

The “confession” — that was sent by a retired Dutch diplomat from New Zealand — has been dismissed by Sobhraj as “a false and fabricated document”.

According to the Indian penal code, Sobhraj says in his argument, confessions can be made only to a magistrate, who signs each page to avoid any manipulation or foul play. But the “so-called confession” bears no name or signature.

Sobhraj is reinforcing his “not guilty” plea, saying that he has never been convicted of murder anywhere in the world.

The long stay in a cramped dingy prison with a court of appeals overturning his “not guilty” plea would have lowered the morale of many.

But Sobhraj has utilised his time behind bars to write a fresh memoirs, sign a film deal and employ the latest scientific aids to reinforce his appeal.

Police also presented as evidence against Sobhraj a page from an old guest register, claiming Sobhraj signed it under a different name in 1975. The signature, they say, resembles Sobhraj’s own in his passport.

Age had made the page dark and impossible to decipher.

Sobhraj’s lawyers worked on it using Photoshop, the computer programme used by photographers to enhance picture quality, and cleaned the grime.

However, only Sunday will tell how effective his argument and efforts have been.