Sobhraj found guilty again, freedom dream recedes

June 4th, 2009 - 8:11 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 4 (IANS) Once known for his adroitness in escaping from the most stringently guarded prisons across the world, yesteryear’s crime maestro Charles Sobhraj now seems fated to languish in Nepal’s dingy central jail for life with a lower court Thursday delivering a guilty verdict that has grave implications for the murder case he has been fighting for six years.

Judges Mohan Prasad Ghimire and Ishwor Prasad Khatiwada of Patan Appellate Court found the 66-year-old half Indian, half Vietnamese Sobhraj guilty of having come to Nepal in 1975 using a fake passport and slapped him with a jail term of one year as well as a fine of NRS 2,000.

The light sentence for a crime that seems none too serious however is the pivot on which a far more serious charge of murder, that has sent him behind bars for life, revolves.

Sentenced to life in 2004 for the murder of an American backpacker, Connie Jo Bronzich during the hippy era of the 1970s, Sobhraj had been appealing against the sentence on the ground that there was no evidence to establish that he had come to Nepal in the 1970s.

However, Nepal police contended that he had made a quick trip to Kathmandu from Bangkok using the passport of a Dutch tourist, Henricus Bintanja, whom he had allegedly befriended and then murdered in the Thai capital.

As the murder case reached Nepal’s Supreme Court, the judges hearing it said that the fake passport case, that had been dismissed by a district court, had to be re-opened since it was a crucial factor in determining if Sobhraj had come to Nepal in 1975.

Sobhraj has all along been protesting his innocence and claiming that he never set foot in Nepal before 2003, when he had come to explore legitimate business ventures.

Now with the appellate court indicating he had indeed come to Nepal earlier, the prosecution would have a strong weapon to fight his “not guilty” appeal in the Supreme Court.

The apex court is expected to resume the murder appeal in 70 days.

Thursday’s verdict comes as a stunning blow for the man who had left no stone unturned to get acquitted.

Besides contesting the guilty verdict, he had also petitioned the UN to take up his case, saying his protracted trial constituted a gross violation of human rights.

The verdict will also come as a blow for his Nepali fiancee, Nihita Biswas and her family. Biswas, who is 40 years younger to Sobhraj, met him while he was in jail, fell in love and created a sensation worldwide by announcing her engagement to him.

Her mother, senior lawyer Shakuntala Thapa, has been fighting Sobhraj’s cases.

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