Sobhraj Convicted in Murder Case; Life Term Upheld

Shirish B Pradhan/Kathmandu
Sobhraj Convicted in Murder Case; Life Term Upheld
Dashing his hopes of freedom, Nepal's Supreme Court today rejected 'bikini killer' Charles Sobhraj's appeal against conviction in a sensational 1975 murder case of an American woman here and upheld the life term awarded to the wily Indian-origin criminal by lower courts.

66-year-old Sobhraj, a French national whose father was an Indian and mother a Vietnamese, was also found guilty by the apex court of possessing a fake passport.

Rejecting the appeal of the international criminal against conviction in the murder of American tourist Connie Jo Bronzich, a two-judge bench of the apex court comprising Ram Kumar Prasad Shaha and Gauri Dhakal upheld the 20-year life sentence awarded to him by the Kathmandu district court and Patan appellate court.

The court also ordered the seizure of all his properties.

"Although there is no direct evidence, based on circumstantial evidence, we don't see any fault in the decision of the Kathmandu district court and the Patan appellate court. Therefore, we uphold their verdicts," Justice Shaha said.

Sobhraj was sentenced by the lower courts to a 20-year life term for the murder of Bronzich and one year jail and Rs 2,000 fine in the fake passport case. He has already spent seven years in prison.

While delivering its judgement, Nepal's apex court took into account Sobhraj's statement before an Indian court that he had travelled to Nepal along with his former girlfriend Mary at the time of the incident. Mary had also spoken of his involvement in the murder of Bronzich.

Reacting to the verdict, Sobhraj's lawyer Shakuntala Thapa, who is also his mother-in-law, claimed that her client was "denied" justice.

"How can you convict a person without any evidence?" Thapa asked. "We provided all the evidence necessary to prove that he is not guilty. They simply did not look at the facts."

Sobhraj's wife Nihita Biswas also voiced her dissatisfaction with the verdict and rejected all charges against him as baseless.

22-year-old Biswas alleged that the decision against Sobhraj was taken by "corrupt judges," e-kantipur reported.

"My husband is innocent," she said and charged the judges with accepting bribe for pronouncing the verdict against Sobhraj, according to the paper.

"Now, we will knock on the doors ... International Court," said Biswas, adding that she has lost faith in Nepal's judiciary.

Earlier on July 14, the apex court had said it needed two more weeks to decide the matter.

The case of Sobhraj, who was linked to a series of backpacker killings of tourists across Asia, has attracted international media attention, particularly after he announced his engagement and marriage to a young Biswas, a Nepalese citizen, in 2008, while inside prison.

The alleged serial killer has already spent seven years in jail for the murder of Bronzich, who was stabbed repeatedly, burnt beyond recognition and whose body was dumped on the outskirts of the Nepalese capital.

Sobhraj was arrested during his second visit here in 2003 and convicted by the Kathmandu District Court in 2004, a judgement later upheld by the Patan Appellate Court in 2005. He moved the apex court in 2006 challenging the lower courts' verdicts.

Sobhraj was nabbed from Kathmandu's Royale Casino in 2003 on charges of travelling on a fake passport and later he was also convicted for the murder of the American backpacker.

Sobharj claims that he has never visited Nepal before 2003 and denies having committed any crime here.

Handwriting analysis played a major role in Sobhraj's conviction, with signatures on two hotel registers around the time of the murder are believed to be his. His lawyers say that the original documents were never produced during his trial.

Sobhraj had previously been convicted in India and served 21 years in prison for culpable homicide. After his release he returned to live in France.

Sobhraj has another case pending against him of the murder of a Canadian tourist Laurent Armound Carriere in the Bhaktapur district court

The criminal had tried to escape from Kathmandu's Central Jail in November 2004 but security personnel foiled his plot.

Sobhraj is also known as 'The Serpent' for his talent for disguise, evading justice and breaking out of prisons. He had escaped from jails in Greece, Afghanistan and India.

In 1986, he drugged guards with sedative-laced sweets and walked out of New Delhi's high-security Tihar jail.

His audacious escape from Tihar earned him an extended sentence when he was recaptured -- a scenario some believe Sobhraj had engineered to avoid extradition to Thailand where police had issued a warrant for his arrest in a murder case.
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