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Fate deals Sobhraj another blow

Nepal's Supreme Court on Sunday puts off its hearing on a 30-year-old murder case involving Charles Sobhraj.

world Updated: Nov 04, 2007 16:33 IST

Nepal's Supreme Court on Sunday put off its hearing on a 30-year-old murder case involving Charles Sobhraj, dealing a fresh blow to the hopes of the 63-year-old international criminal who is lodged in a prison here.

Ever since Nepal's Supreme Court sent him a missive, indicating his fate would be sealed Sunday, Sobhraj, yesteryear's "serpent", serving life imprisonment, had been living for the day, wavering between hope and alarm.

However, his yearning to see an end to his nearly five-year-old court battle, one way or the other, was not destined to be fulfilled either with the announcement of the final verdict being put off due to one of the judges being out of town.

Sobhraj, once a dominant name in the underworld of several countries, wanted for forgeries and thefts targeting foreign tourists, became convicted for murder for the first time in Nepal.

In 2003, Nepal police traced him to a casino in Kathmandu and arrested him for the murder of an American backpacker, Connie Jo Bronzich, in 1975.

One year later, a district court judge sentenced him to life imprisonment and the following year, an appellate court rejected Sobhraj's appeal against the decision.

The undeterred Sobhraj started a fresh battle in Nepal's Supreme Court and after a long delay, the final verdict was scheduled Sunday.

Though his "not guilty" plea was turned down twice, Sobhraj was optimistic about Sunday's sentence since the two judges hearing his case -- Anup Kumar Sharma and Top Bahadur Magar -- are among the most senior justices in Nepal with a reputation for fair play.

However, with Justice Sharma being out of Kathmandu on an official visit, Sobhrah would now have to wait for a fresh date.

The conviction brought Sobhraj in limelight after his leading a low-profile life in France, where he had been deported from India. The same intense media glare was anticipated Sunday. Unlike in 2004, this time Sobhraj had decided not to go to court for the verdict, in a bid to avoid the glare.

Two of his friends flew down to Kathmandu from India to provide him moral support.

Sobhraj claims he never came to Nepal before 2003 and had no involvement in Bronzich's death.

Nepal police made a dogged attempt to keep him behind bars. First, he was charged with coming to Nepal on a fake passport.

Though the court acquitted him, police arrested him from the court premises immediately afterwards and charged him with a double murder.

Besides Bronzich, they also held him responsible for the murder of her companion, Canadian Laurent Armand Carriere, who was killed in the same way.

However, the Carriere murder could not stick as first police could not find the old case file and then, it was found that due to a technical reason, the 1975 case could not be re-opened.

Sobhraj says he was convicted on the basis of biased media reports. His lawyers, who include the top legal eagles of Nepal, say his reputation caused his undoing.

If he is freed and walks out of Kathmandu's central jail, Sobhraj says the first thing he will do is call up his nine-year-old daughter in France.

If he is convicted, Sobhraj says he will not lose heart. He would take his case to the International Court of Justice.