Sobhraj given life term for drinking water, washing clothes

July 9th, 2008 - 12:52 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 9 (IANS) Charles Sobhraj was arrested from a casino in Kathmandu by Nepal police five years ago and slapped with a jail term of 20 years because he drank mineral water, ate Chinese food and had his clothes washed and pressed in a hotel. That is the gist of the police submission to Nepal’s Supreme Court when the 64-year-old’s final appeal comes up for hearing Aug 4.

The Sobhraj drama, which began in Nepal in 2003 and received a fresh twist recently with him becoming engaged to a Nepali woman one-third his age, is heading for its climax next month when the apex court will either set him free or uphold the life term pronounced in 2004 by Kathmandu’s district court.

When Sobhraj visited Kathmandu in 2003 - to explore the possibility of making a film and exporting handicraft items, according to him - police arrested him on the charge that he had come to Nepal almost three decades earlier, using the passport of a Dutch tourist, Henricus Bintanja.

Though the judges hearing the case acquitted him, police arrested him the same day from court premises and levied a new charge.

This time, he was accused of murdering an American tourist, Connie Jo Bronzich, in 1975. The judge hearing the case found him guilty and gave him life imprisonment.

From his prison in Kathmandu, Sobhraj is fighting the verdict, saying he never came to Nepal before 2003. He also says the police has no evidence.

Nepal police have been resting their case mainly on two photographs. According to them, these are the photographs of the guest registers of two upmarket hotels, Malla Hotel and Soaltee Crowne Plaza. They contend Sobhraj stayed in these hotels in 1975 posing as a Dutch man.

They also say the signatures in the two guest registers match that of Sobhraj in his passport.

“How can that be possible?” Sobhraj told IANS. “If I had come to Nepal in 1975, as police claim, and signed the guest registers as Henricus Bintanja, how can that signature tally with mine in my passport, which says Charles Sobhraj?”

Sobhraj’s lawyers are counter-alleging that police forged the crude documents without applying their minds. They say when Sobhraj was arrested in 2003, police kept him in illegal detention for two days when they made him scribble his signature on 11 pages so that they could get samples and fake the hotel registration pages.

More importantly, they have also brought to the apex court’s notice that the “guest registration cards” submitted by police are not the original ones but photographs, which are not admissible as proof, according to Nepal’s criminal laws.

Consequently, the apex court asked Nepal police and immigration authorities to produce the original documents on the basis of which the French citizen was arrested and sent to prison.

The immigration office washed its hands of the matter, saying it had levied the charge of entering Nepal on a fake passport on the orders of the police.

The police, on their part, this month sent to the court, instead of the crucial 1975 documents asked for, a sheaf of bills Sobhraj ran up almost three years later, when he visited Kathmandu and stayed in the Garden Hotel in Thamel.

The bills include those for buying mineral water, eating chowmein at the hotel and having his clothes washed and pressed.

Police also filed as “evidence” of murder a copy of a sensational report carried in a Nepali tabloid this month that dwelt on his engagement to 20-year-old Nihita Biswas.

“Sobhraj was convicted due to his earlier reputation,” his lawyer Ram Bandhu Sharma told IANS at the time of filing the final appeal. “We have been asking the court to look at the actual evidence at hand - and there is none.”

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