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Top Maoist leader’s wife to defend Sobhraj

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : After a feisty French lawyer, a former Nepali attorney-general, and a legal adviser of Nepali caretaker Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, now the wife of a top Maoist leader will defend Charles Sobhraj against the charge of murder committed more than three decades ago.

The 64-year-old former rogue, who has hired some of the best legal brains in Nepal to rescue him from a 20-year jail term, is expected to make a personal appearance in the republic’s Supreme Court Sunday when his innocence will be pleaded by Laxmi Devkota, the wife of Maoist lawmaker Khimlal.

Devkota has been roped in by Nepali lawyer Shakuntala Thapa, who has special ties with Sobhraj, being the mother of the 20-year-old high school student, Nihita Biswas, who created a sensation last month with the disclosure that she is engaged to Sobhraj, 44 years her senior.

Devkota’s taking up cudgels on behalf of Sobhraj, who has been imprisoned in Kathmandu’s Central Jail since 2003, is bound to be politicised .

A section of Nepal’s media has been accusing the wily Frenchman of trying to cosy up to the Maoists, who could be heading the new government of Nepal, in a bid to derive extra mileage.

His future mother-in-law Thapa is also a Maoist supporter.

During his prison stint, Sobhraj claims he helped a Maoist member, once held incommunicado and blindfolded by the army, get medical treatment.

He also hailed the Maoist victory in the April election and offered to pay for the education of a young Nepali woman who was thrown out of her home by her father for voting for the Maoists.

This year, Sobhraj sent appeals to Maoist supremo Prachanda, his deputy Baburam Bhattarai and the latter’s wife and physical planning and works minister Hisila Yami, saying he had been falsely implicated in the murder of an American tourist and asking to be released.

However, despite his appeal, his good Samaritanism towards the Maoists and his potential mother-in-law’s clout, his situation in the prison has become precarious.

After he began a running feud with a Nepali prisoner and alleged he was being asked to pay Nepali Rs.50 million or face the abduction and torture of his fiancée, the jail authorities decided to keep him handcuffed 24 hours.

His right to have visitors was also drastically slashed to two days from seven.

Raja Ram Dhakal, Sobhraj’s old lawyer who has been defending him since 2003 when the former was arrested from a Kathmandu casino, said the jail authorities told him that Sobhraj was kept manacled after fears that he could stage a jailbreak.

The fears, jailer Shankar Sharma said, were fuelled by the media hype created by Sobhraj and his fiancée, which were regarded as a smokescreen to divert attention from a possible jailbreak attempt.

Dhakal said the jailer had promised to remove the handcuffs and allow Sobhraj to receive visitors after it was pointed out that both measures were illegal.

The media hype, Dhakal said, should not affect the Supreme Court’s verdict.

“His engagement is a personal matter and not related to the appeal,” Dhakal said.

Police say Sobhraj came to Nepal under the guise of being a Dutch tourist in 1975 when he befriended Connie Jo Bronzich, an American tourist, and killed her along with her Canadian boyfriend Laurent Armand Carriere.

However, while they were able to make the Bronzich murder charge stick, the other one could not be re-opened as the old files could not be found.

Slapped with life imprisonment for the murder, Sobhraj is fighting the sentence, saying that he never came to Nepal before 2003 and was framed by police.

Dhakal said the five-year court battle could be resolved in three weeks.