Charles Sobhraj’s past finally caught up with him last Friday when Nepal Supreme Court held the 65-year-old guilty of murdering US national Connie Joe Bronzich in Kathmandu 35 years ago and upheld a 20-year life sentence passed by a district court in 2004.
As Justices Ram Kumar Prasad Shah and Gauri Dhakal announced the verdict, another 65-year-old, Biswa Lal Shrestha, the victim’s lawyer, heaved a sigh of relief. Life had come full circle for both men who had met for the first time in December 1975 under different circumstances.
Shrestha, a CID inspector, was probing the murders of two western backpackers and Sobhraj who was posing as a Dutch professor Henk Bintanja was one of the suspects the police were questioning.
But before the police could make further headway, Sobhraj and his Canadian girlfriend Marie LeClerc fled Nepal and reached India. It was five months later Shrestha learnt Sobhraj had killed Bintanja in Bangkok and was using his passport during his Nepal visit.
A year later Shrestha submitted his chargesheets in both murder cases. And as Sobhraj spent 21 years in Tihar Jail in Delhi following his 1976 arrest, the young inspector resigned from the police in 1982 and became a lawyer. But the two were destined to meet again.
It happened in September 2003 when Sobhraj was arrested from a Kathmandu casino. “I met him after his arrest and he recognised me immediately. However, we didn’t talk,” Shrestha told HT.
The lawyer helped police locate the old chargesheets — long forgotten and buried under court documents. They nailed Sobhraj’s lie that he was not present in Kathmandu in December 1975 and the ‘serpent’ was sentenced for life by the Kathmandu district court for Connie’s murder.
An appellate court upheld the verdict leading Sobhraj to file a petition in the Supreme Court. It was at this point when Shrestha made another entry into Sobhraj’s life.
As Connie’s lawyer, Shrestha collected evidence from many countries. And although there was no direct evidence linking Sobhraj to the murder, the Supreme Court held there was enough circumstantial evidence to prove his role.
Now the frail lawyer thinks he has another important task — a spiritual one. “It’s time for Sobhraj to turn towards spirituality. I have bought a French version of Bhagawad Gita from Vrindavan and plan to give it to him in his prison cell the next time we meet,” said the ISKON member.
Some connections never get disconnected.