Sobhraj begins fresh fight for freedom

February 12th, 2009 - 5:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Feb 12 (IANS) Exactly a month after Nepal’s apex court squashed his dream of freedom, Charles Gurmukh Sobhraj Thursday began a fresh battle for release in a lower court, where judges will decide if he had come to the Himalayan nation more than three decades ago using a fraudulent passport.

It was a case of recurring nightmare for the 64-year-old former crime maestro whispered to have links to the Al Qaeda and CIA who now finds himself in the dock for the same charge that he had faced in 2003, when he was spotted in the capital and arrested from a casino.

Police had at that time accused Sobhraj of having come to Nepal in 1975 illegally, using the passport of a Dutch tourist who had gone to vacation in Thailand, Henricus Bintanja.

Though a pretty harmless charge compared to the other dark accusations the half Indian-half Vietnamese had faced during his soaring criminal career in the 70s, including armed robbery and drugging a bus-load of tourists, the fake passport case however holds the key to a graver charge of murder.

In the past, though the tabloids had hinted at the charismatic Sobhraj being behind a string of tourist murders, no court however could prove him guilty. It was only in 2003 that Kathmandu’s district court found him guilty of the murder of American tourist Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975 and sent him behind bars for life.

Sobhraj says he never came to Nepal before 2003 when he had legitimate business.

If Nepal police can prove that Sobhraj indeed visited Nepal in 1975 masquerading as Bintanja, the murder charge would get additional weight.

In a questionable judgement, the district court had dismissed the fake passport case in 2003 and proceeded with the graver charge of murder, which resulted in a guilty verdict and a 20-year jail term.

As Sobhraj contested the judgment in Nepal’s Supreme Court, the top court last month ruled that they were dissatisfied with the dismissal of the passport case since that formed the key evidence in finding Sobhraj guilty of murder.

The two judges asked for a review of the dismissed passport case and directed it to the Patan Appellate Court.

Sobhraj’s judges say police have not been able to produce the Bintanja passport or any immigration document to prove that even such a man had come to Nepal in 1975.

The only record produced by police is a photocopy of two guest registers of two upmarket hotels. Police say Sobhraj posing as Bintanja stayed in the two hotels and signed himself in as the Dutch tourist.

They also say that there are similarities between the 1975 handwritings and Sobhraj’s signature in his current French passport.

However, the law of Nepal says that Xeroxes are inadmissible as evidence and the original documents have to be produced. But police have failed to comply in six years, giving rise to speculation that there are no original documents.

Sobhraj’s lawyers are also claiming that the Xeroxes are forgeries done by police in 2003 when they held Sobhraj in secret detention for one week before they admitted to having arrested him.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in World |