Sobhraj ready to do or die

January 13th, 2009 - 2:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Jan 13 (IANS) On Tuesday, Charles Gurmukh Sobhraj began a long and tense vigil in his cell in Kathmandu’s Central Jail, awaiting a visit by his fiancée Nihita Biswas, who would tell him if he would walk out of prison a free man or get ready for another long fight.After two years waiting, Nepal’s Supreme Court is scheduled to pronounce its final verdict Tuesday on a sensational 34-year-old murder case that has refused to be relegated to oblivion.

The roots of Tuesday’s court battle go back to December 1975 when two badly burnt bodies were found in Kathmandu valley. While one was identified as that of American tourist Connie Jo Bronzich, police could only establish that the other was a male with no identification possible.

Police say Sobhraj, who was then running forged passport and other rackets in Bangkok, came to Nepal using the passport of a Dutch tourist Henricus Bintanja, who was killed in the Thai capital.

Sobhraj, according to their deposition, befriended Bronzich, allegedly for the valuable jewels she had bought in India, and killed her.

Though at that time police kept the suave tourist who was staying under Bintanja’s name in a luxury hotel in Kathmandu under surveillance, the suspect fled from Nepal to India across the porous border.

Dust gathered on the Bronzich file for 28 years till a Nepal daily splashed the photograph of Sobhraj on its front page in 2003, saying the crime maestro of the 70s had been sighted in Nepal’s tourist hub Thamel.

Soon after that, police arrested the French master conman from a casino and charged him with having come to Nepal in 1975 on a fake passport.

Though the court dismissed the case, on the same day, police re-arrested Sobhraj from the Kathmandu district court premises and slapped the new charge of Bronzich’s murder.

This time, luck deserted the man once called the Serpent for his ability to wriggle out of prisons and difficulties. Sobhraj was found guilty of murder for the first time in his life despite allegations of over a dozen other previous killings and sentenced to life imprisonment.

In 2005, the dogged Sobhraj lost his first appeal against the verdict and began another determined battle in Nepal’s Supreme Court.

The apex court was to have pronounced the final verdict in 2007 but instead, in a surprise decision, the judges asked the fake passport case to be reopened.

In December 2008, it had seemed the verdict would be finally announced but instead, was deferred to Jan 13, 2009.

Sobhraj says he did not come to Nepal before 2003 and police forged documents to implicate him.

His formidable army of lawyers has pointed out that police have not been able to provide a single original document but only Xeroxes, which are not admissible as evidence.

The sensational trial received a fresh twist when Bronzich’s family appointed as their lawyer the police inspector who had questioned the suspect in 1975.

Bishwa Lal Shrestha, now an independent lawyer, says he recognises Sobhraj as the man he had interrogated in the past.

The buzz over the trial spread with India’s film industry Bollywood announcing the making of a new film on Sobhraj with super star Sanjay Dutt playing the lead.

Also last year, Sobhraj’s former friend and screenplay writer Farrukh Dhondy launched his new novel The Bikini Murders, which is actually a thinly disguised version of Sobhraj’s criminal career woven with sex scenes that Sobhraj contemptuously dismissed as “cheap and pornographic”.

But perhaps the most sensational factor in the Sobhraj trial has been his announcement that he has become engaged to a Nepali woman who is 44 years his junior and the two plan to marry formally in Paris when he is released.

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