Sobhraj’s freedom hope dashed again (Lead)

November 9th, 2008 - 8:02 pm ICT by IANS  

!– Imagr –Kathmandu, Nov 9 (IANS) Yesteryear’s “Bikini Killer” Charles Sobhraj was hoping that he would be acquitted by Nepal’s Supreme Court of a murder charge that goes back to the Hippie days of the 1970s and had a dramatic climax just five years ago.However, the 64-year-old’s hope that this year would be his last in Kathmandu’s dismal Central Prison was dashed Sunday by Nepal’s slow-moving judicial system.

With one of the two judges who are hearing his final appeal against his conviction for the murder of American backpacker Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975, being on leave Sunday, the critical hearing was put off.

It would now be Dec 8 when the case comes up for hearing again.

Now the “Bikini Killer” of yesteryear would have to wait for a tense month and even then, there is no guarantee that the appeal would be heard and the final verdict delivered by this year.

“If the judges want a new investigation, the final verdict would be postponed,” said Til Prasad Shrestha, joint registrar at the Supreme Court. “Even if everything else is fine, the judges might decide to fix a different date for the final verdict instead of Dec 8.”

Since 2005, after a court of appeals rejected Sobhraj’s appeal against the life term handed down to him by Kathmandu district court, he has been fighting his last battle against a life term.

The final verdict was expected last year. However, the two judges hearing the case instead asked for the re-opening of an earlier passport forgery case against him, which had been dismissed by a lesser court in 2004.

Sobhraj says he never came to Nepal before 2003 when he made a trip to explore the possibilities of making a film, exporting handicraft terms and setting up a mineral water plant. He says he was framed by Nepal police.

The prosecution says there are confessions before Indian police by Sobhraj as well as his Canadian accomplice Marie Andree Leclerc, admitting that they visited Nepal in 1975.

Nepal’s lawyer community feels that Sobhraj’s formidable reputation will go against him.

With Nepal’s judiciary coming under fire for corruption, it is unlikely that the judges will be able to proclaim him not guilty even in the absence of clinching evidence for fear that they would bear the brunt of public anger.

Since his arrest from a Kathmandu casino in 2003 and subsequent imprisonment, Sobhraj has alienated the police and jail authorities with allegations of corruption and favouritism.

He also stirred up a hornets’ nest by getting engaged while inside prison to a Nepali woman 44 years younger, angering Nepal’s conservative society.

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