Sobhraj fiancée accepts contempt of court summons

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Slapped with a contempt of court charge after their battle to get Charles Sobhraj acquitted of murder in Nepal failed, his Nepali fiancée Nihita Biswas and her mother Shakuntala Thapa, who is also Sobhraj’s lawyer, met Supreme Court officials Tuesday to accept the summons.

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Now, they have to submit written statements to the court by Friday, defending their angry outburst on the court premises July 30 when the verdict by judges Ram Kumar Prasad Shah and Gauri Dhakal went against their expectations.

Thapa and Nihita had called the judges corrupt, triggering a suit by two lawyers, Rajan Adhikari and Shanta Sedhai, for contempt of court.

In an unusual step, the two lawyers’ application was heard by Shah, one of the two judges Thapa and Nihita had criticised, who ordered that the women be arrested if they failed to submit the explanation within 72 hours.

The feisty Thapa, who had left no stone unturned during the long trial to get Sobhraj acquitted, sounded depressed.

She said her request to the court officials that she would submit Nihita’s explanation on her behalf was rejected.

“My daughter is young, she’s not used to all this,” Thapa told IANS. “She almost fainted in court Friday and has been unwell since then. I wanted to spare her another visit to the court.

“However, I was told she would have to submit her explanation in person.”

Thapa, a senior Supreme Court lawyer herself, said she had no idea what would happen after she submitted her explanation.

“We will play it by ear,” she said. “But the contempt notice is not going to deflect me from the Sobhraj case.”

Thapa is now studying the verdict to cite grounds for a review of the case by a full bench, meaning at least three judges.

She was also upset that though the judgment on the 1975 murder of American tourist Connie Jo Bronzich was ready, the other case that had begun Sobhraj’s seven-year courtroom drama in 2003 was yet to be ready.

In 2003, the Frenchman, still carrying considerable notoriety for allegations that he was involved in a series of murders of western tourists in several Asian countries, was spotted in Kathmandu and arrested from a casino.

Police first charged him with having come to Nepal in the hippie era of 1975 using the tampered passport of a Dutch tourist found dead in Bangkok.

The passport case became important because despite Sobhraj’s denial that he had even come to Nepal earlier, police and the courts adhered to that as proof that he had indeed been to Nepal in 1975 and committed a double murder.

The other victim, according to prosecutors, was a Canadian male Laurent Armand Carriere who had shared a room with Bronzich, though police records during the murder described the body as that of an unidentified woman.

“If the passport verdict was not ready, what did the judges read out from while pronouncing their judgment on Friday?” Thapa asked.

It remains to be seen how the contempt of court trial will proceed though Sobhraj’s sentence is not likely to be overturned, having been upheld by three courts.

Chhetra Bahadur Bhandari, jailer of Central Jail, where Sobhraj will have to serve the rest of his term, said since the court had also ordered the confiscation of Sobhraj’s property, the sentence now stood at 21 and a half years.

While the 66-year-old has already completed about seven years behind bars in Nepal, he is unlikely to get any immediate remission on the ground of his age and good behaviour, due to his reputation.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at [email protected])