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Nepal SC to decide Sobhraj's fate Jan 13

After a six-year dogged legal battle, Nepal's SC today announced that the fate of alleged serial killer Charles Sobhraj, now is jail in Kathmandu, will be decided January 13.

world Updated: Dec 28, 2008 17:59 IST

After a six-year dogged legal battle, Nepal's Supreme Court on Sunday announced that the fate of alleged serial killer Charles Sobhraj, now is jail in Kathmandu, will be decided January 13.

It was an anxious day for the 64-year-old, his lawyers and Nepali fiancée Nihita Biswas, as it initially seemed the critical final arguments by his lawyers would be postponed a record seventh time on Sunday due to lack of time.

The two judges, who have been hearing Sobhraj's appeal against a sensational murder verdict that landed him in Kathmandu's Central Prison for life in 2004, were scheduled to hear seven more cases before Sobhraj's on Monday.

With the apex court closing at 4 pm due to winter, it seemed Sobhraj's case would not come up before the judges due to lack of time.

However, in an unexpected stroke of luck for the man whose luck ran out in Kathmandu five years ago, some of the earlier cases Sunday were dismissed and two of his leading lawyers, including Biswas' mother Shakuntala Thapa, rushed through the sum-up of their arguments to plead for a speedy verdict.

The Nepal police, who arrested Sobhraj from an upmarket casino in the capital 2003, claim the former con man had come to Nepal in 1975 using the passport of a Dutch tourist he killed in Bangkok. They also claim that during his stay in Nepal, Sobhraj and his accomplices killed an American tourist, Connie Jo Bronzich, and her Canadian companion Laurent Armand Carriere.

However, the police could not produce Carriere's case file and so pressed charges only for the murder of Bronzich.

A district court judge found Sobhraj guilty in a trial that is said to have been marked by severe flaws, including the judge reading a key letter wrongly, and failing to summon any witnesses for cross-examination.

Sobhraj, who denies coming to Nepal in 1975, lost his appeal in the appellate court that upheld the life term in 2005.

Since then, he has been fighting his last legal battle in Nepal, appealing to the Supreme Court.

Last year, both sides were ready for a verdict when the judges instead decided to re-open a lesser fake passport case that had already been dismissed by two earlier courts.

The delay led to Sobhraj's French lawyer petitioning the UN's Human Rights Commission in Geneva last month where she called Nepal's courts erratic and absurd.

The trial, once stalked by the world media, received fresh interest this year after Sobhraj announced his engagement and then "marriage", while inside prison, to Biswas, who is 44 years younger to him.

The ensuing limelight also put him in the bad books of the prison authorities who accused him of trying to create a diversion and stage a jailbreak.

Since then, he is not allowed to have visitors other than his lawyers and for some time was kept handcuffed in his cell.

First Published: Dec 28, 2008 17:56 IST