Sobhraj awaits his fate with bated breath

January 12th, 2009 - 6:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Jan 12 (IANS) Sleeplessness and growing nervousness torment Charles Sobhraj as the countdown to decide his fate has started.On Tuesday, after a nearly four-year battle in Nepal’s Supreme Court, the apex court is scheduled to announce its final verdict on a sensational decades-old murder case that resurrected in 2003 in a dramatic incident to put him behind bars for life.

Supreme Court judges Min Bahadur Raymajhi and Kalyan Shrestha last month set Jan 13 as the date for the final judgment.

Wanted for the murder of American tourist Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975, sighted in a Kathmandu casino in 2003 and quickly arrested and charged with the murder, Sobhraj was found guilty and slapped with a 20-year jail term by Nepal’s district court.

Though the 64-year-old challenged the verdict in a lower court, saying it was flawed and had no supporting evidence, the appellate court nonetheless upheld the decision.

The court room drama, that was covered avidly by the international media and brought to fresh limelight the man who had dominated the crime headlines in the 70s for his audacious robberies, forgeries and drugging of unwary victims, continued as Sobhraj challenged the decision in the Supreme Court.

The case was to have been decided two years ago. But at the last minute, the earlier judges presiding over the trial instead asked for a lesser case of passport forgery to be re-opened though it had been thrown out by two lesser courts.

Eager to shake the dust of prison off his feet and start a new life in France with the 20-year-old Nepali woman he has become engaged to during his prison stint, Sobhraj says police forged documents to implicate him.

While his lawyers are hoping for victory Tuesday, there are however other possibilities to be considered.

The court might, following the past pattern, defer the verdict and set another date.

Or the judges could open the session but ask for other documents or other complaints to be re-opened.

Or they could proclaim him innocent and set him free.

The fourth possibility is that they could uphold the guilty verdict.

Initially, Sobhraj was confident he would win the case. “Ninety percent of the appeals that reach the Supreme Court get acquitted,” he had told IANS. “The very fact that the court admitted my plea shows that there is ground to think that there was a miscarriage of justice.”

However, now with only 24 hours left between freedom and a bleak life in a prison cell for at least 10 more years, his confidence has receded.

But he still has a contingency plan.

If he loses his final battle in Nepal’s court, he plans to move the International Court of Justice in Geneva.

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