Sobhraj fires principal lawyer for ‘conflict of interests’

April 14th, 2009 - 4:38 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 14 (IANS) Fighting a tortuous battle in Nepal’s Supreme Court to overturn a murder conviction that sent him behind bars for life, Charles Sobhraj has fired his principal lawyer, accusing the latter of trying to jeopardise his chances of acquittal.

Basant Bhandari, one of the top lawyers of Nepal who had been defending Sobhraj since the latter’s arrest from a Kathmandu casino almost six years ago, received a letter Monday, asking him to withdraw from the case due to a “conflict of interests”.

Moving with lightning speed in spite of being lodged in prison, Sobhraj has now appointed in Bhandari’s place another senior lawyer, Ram Prasad Shrestha.

Shrestha was a member of the controversial Rayamajhi Commission that was formed in 2006 to bring to justice the people responsible for the attack on democracy during the army-backed regime of King Gyanendra but could not punish a single person.

“I was shocked by Bhandari’s line of defence,” Sobhraj said in a message sent to IANS through his lawyers.

“First, he tried to alienate judges by calling them incompetent and then used the assumption that I could have come to Nepal in 1975 when I have always denied that.”

The new twist comes after the last hearing in a court of appeals Thursday. The Patan Appellate Court is hearing arguments by the state as well as Sobhraj’s lawyers to determine if the Frenchman had come to Nepal in 1975 using the forged passport of a Dutch tourist.

If they find him guilty, it will pave the way for a much more serious conviction. Sobhraj, who had never been convicted of murder before, would then be regarded as having used the clandestine visit to murder an American backpacker Connie Jo Bronzich.

The Frenchman’s feathers were badly ruffled by Bhandari who told the court during Thursday’s hearing that even if it was assumed that his client had visited Kathmandu in 1975, he could still not be convicted now for using a forged passport since the immigration laws of the 70s have been scrapped.

Sobhraj is alleging that Bhandari became hostile over a monetary dispute, triggered by the suspicion that Sobhraj was paying more money to his new lawyer Shakuntala Thapa.

Thapa is the mother of Sobhraj’s 20-year-old fiancee, Nihita Biswas.

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