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Reopen Sobhraj case, says Nepal SC

india Updated: Jun 19, 2006 15:37 IST

Languishing in Nepal's most fortified prison cell with two courts upholding a life sentence, serial killer Charles Sobhraj has now been given fresh hopes as the country's top court has ordered his case to be re-opened July.

Supreme Court judges Ram Prasad Shrestha and Rajendra Prasad Koirala ordered that the French national be allowed to appeal against the life sentence slapped on him for the murder of American backpacker Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975.

The Sobhraj drama unfolded in Nepal in 2003 after the accused was arrested from a posh casino in Kathmandu and charged with the double murder of Bronzich and her Canadian boyfriend Laurent Armand Carriere.

For the first time in his long career in crime spanning over seven countries, he was found guilty of murder and given a 20-year jail term.

Now, a new act would be added to it with the Supreme Court on Sunday saying that the earlier verdicts could have been wrong and ordering re-opening of the case on July 5.

"By admitting the appeal, the Supreme Court indicated that the earlier two courts might have erred," said an exultant Raja Ram Dhakal, one of the five lawyers fighting Sobhraj's case.

"Nearly 80 per cent of the cases admitted by the Supreme Court end with the accused being freed."

The two judges have asked the government for several clarifications once the the final hearing begins.

In 2004, a district court judge had found Sobhraj guilty of the murder of Bronzich on the basis of circumstantial evidence. According to police, Sobhraj had escaped to Nepal from Thailand, where he was wanted for murder, using the passport of a Dutch tourist, Henricus Bintanja. Sobhraj was suspected to have killed Bintanja after befriending him.

In 1975, a tourist checked into the five-star Soaltee Crowne Plaza hotel, signing his name in the guest register as Henricus Bintanja. Nepal police say it was actually Sobhraj and claim Sobhraj's handwriting resembles the scrawl in the register.

However, they never produced the original register in court during the two long trials even though Nepal's laws say that photocopied copies can't be accepted as evidence. Now the apex court is asking the prosecution to produce the original record and get it verified by an independent handwriting expert.

After the discovery of Bronzich's badly charred body on the outskirts of Kathmandu, police found her diary among her belongings. She had written about meeting a man called Charles Sobhraj, who was an expert on gems. She is also said to have been seen in a car hired by Sobhraj from a travel agency. However, the car driver, Purna Bahadur Maharjan, was never called to give evidence.

Sobhraj had pointed out the lapse during his trials but was ignored. Now the Supreme Court has also asked that the driver be cross-examined.