Sobhraj rakes up fresh controversy in Nepal

April 26th, 2008 - 12:06 pm ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 26 (IANS) His effort to don a new role and spruce up his image has landed yesteryear’s crime maestro “Serpent” Charles Sobhraj in a new controversy in Nepal with the lawyers fighting to keep him behind bars accusing him of violating prison regulations to influence the judges. Ironically, the new controversy was fuelled after the 64-year-old, serving a life term in Kathmandu’s central jail for the murder of an American tourist in 1975, tried to play Good Samaritan and wrote to a local daily, volunteering to help out a young Nepali woman in distress.

Sobhraj, who ran a network of criminal activities spanning several Asian countries in the 70s targeting western tourists, this week offered to pay for the education of a Nepali college student, who was thrown out of her home by her father for having voted for the Maoist party in the election earlier this month.

“I believe Saraswoti (Guindel) is a great example for others,” Sobhraj wrote in a letter to the Himalayan Times daily that had carried a report on the girl’s defiance.

“I urge her not to have regrets as she has taken the right decision for herself.”

The letter, published in the daily’s “Letters” column Wednesday, generated praise from readers, who lauded the man dubbed the “Bikini Killer” by tabloids in the 70s.

“It is good that a person charged with so many crimes has finally stood for a noble cause,” a reader wrote.

“By extending help to a beleaguered girl, he has set an example for other criminals,” wrote another.

However, the mellowing image of a man once convicted of drugging tourists, robbing them and even manslaughter, has angered the lawyers hired by the family of the murdered woman, Connie Jo Bronzich, who are fighting to keep Sobhraj behind bars in Nepal.

“Sobhraj is trying to influence the Supreme Court by portraying himself as a good man with high moral values,” said R.B. Pradhananga, one of the lawyers.

The lawyers are objecting to Sobhraj’s interaction with the media, pointing out that Nepal’s Prison Act prohibits a prison inmate from contacting outsiders without the permission of prison authorities.

Almost four years ago, after he was seen in Kathmandu, arrested for the 1975 murder and given life imprisonment by the district court, there was another controversy with another Nepali daily saying that the wily French national had obtained a laptop and phone inside his cell and was using them in a bid to drug his prison guards and stage a jailbreak.

Though Sobhraj’s lawyers repudiated the report, it resulted in the prison authorities confiscating his electronic equipment.

As Sobhraj fights his last appeal against the 20-year jail term in Nepal’s Supreme Court, both the prosecution and defence have been wooing the media to project their side of the story.

Sobhraj’s Paris-based high-profile lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, known for defending people accused of terrorism, has written to French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Nepal’s King Gyanendra and UN agencies, saying that her client is the victim of injustice in Nepal.

The state and the victim’s lawyers, on the other hand, have tabled nearly a dozen documentaries made by different television stations as well as various books written about Sobhraj before the judges, presenting them as evidence that he murdered the American in 1975.

The greatest irony is that the paper that carried Sobhraj’s letter and has landed him in a fresh controversy is the same one that spotted him in 2003 and carried his photograph, thereby alerting police about his arrival and leading to his subsequent arrest.

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