Nepal prosecution stalls Sobhraj trial

Having failed to produce the vital original documents that can put yesteryear's "Serpent" Charles Sobhraj behind bars for ever, Nepal's prosecution has fallen back on its old strategy of delaying the trial of the 64 year old.
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Updated on Feb 28, 2009 11:27 AM IST
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IANS | By, Kathmandu

Having failed to produce the vital original documents that can put yesteryear's "Serpent" Charles Sobhraj behind bars for ever, Nepal's prosecution has fallen back on its old strategy of delaying the trial of the 64 year old.

Though the trial is for a lesser crime of having allegedly visited Nepal almost 40 years ago under a fake passport, the accusation, if proved true, will put the French national born of an Indian father behind bars for life due to its link with murder.

On Thursday, Sobhraj was poised for fresh trial at the Patan Appellate Court. However, the prosecution stalled it, saying their senior lawyer was preoccupied with another case.

It was the second time they stalled the hearing, which has been accorded priority by the court since its outcome is awaited by the Supreme Court.

Earlier this month, the prosecution hedged the trial, saying they had not received the case file from the attorney general's office.

The trial that Sobhraj's lawyers are eager to rush through and the state is stalling is over the crime charge Nepal police used in 2003 to arrest Sobhraj from a casino in the capital.

Police say he came to Nepal in 1975, using the passport of a Dutch tourist, Henricus Bintanja. Sobhraj has rejected the claim, saying he never came to Nepal before 2003, when he used a bonafide passport issued to him by the French embassy in Paris.

The fake passport case became important when the police further charged Sobhraj with the murder of American backpacker Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975.

Nepal's Supreme Court, which is hearing the murder case now, has ordered the lesser court to clear up the passport row first since that will establish whether Sobhraj had come to Nepal in 1975 or not.

If the appellate court opines that Sobhraj did not come to Nepal in 1975 using the Dutch tourist's passport, the murder case is likely to be dismissed.

Faced with the possibility of their quarry slipping through their fingers, the prosecution and police are in a quandary.

To prove that Sobhraj had indeed come to Nepal in 1975, they have to produce the originals of the documents they claim establish his arrival. However, for nearly six years, they have been fighting the case on the basis of photocopies though that are inadmissible as evidence.

Sobhraj's lawyers counterclaim that the Xeroxes have been fabricated by police.

Now asked to produce the original documents or face the dismissal of the pivotal case, the prosecution is trying to delay the hearing.

The next date of trial has been fixed for March 12. However, with the court allowing either side to postpone a hearing thrice in a row, it is being speculated that the state will seek another postponement next month.

Sobhraj's appearance, arrest and subsequent trial for forgery and murder gripped the world anew almost 30 years after his crime exploits ceased.

The long drama has been further coloured by his becoming engaged, while in prison, to a Nepali woman 44 years younger to him.

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