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No evidence against me: Charles Sobhraj

As his sensational seven-year battle against a three-decade-old murder conviction draws closer, Charles Sobhraj, once dubbed various monikers by the press, some flattering, some spine-tingling, remains cool and confident.

world Updated: Jul 14, 2010 14:24 IST

As his sensational seven-year battle against a three-decade-old murder conviction draws closer, Charles Sobhraj, once dubbed various monikers by the press, some flattering, some spine-tingling, remains cool and confident.

"There is no evidence against me," the 66-year-old son of a Parsi clothes merchant and Vietnamese mother said. "Had they had a shred of evidence, the Supreme Court would have convicted me years ago."

It is now four years since Sobhraj, presently a respectable French businessman dabbling in films, has been fighting a 20-year jail sentence slapped on him in 2004 by a Kathmandu district court judge, who has now been accused of being biased and sloppy.

Supreme Court judges Ram Prasad Shah and Gauri Dhakal, who last year began hearing Sobhraj's appeal against the life sentence, June 23 wrapped up nearly eight months of arguments by the state as well as Sobhraj's formidable team of lawyers. The judges then announced they would deliver the verdict on July 14.

"My case went through the district and the appellate courts and nowhere could police provide any evidence," Sobhraj said.

Sobraj- Life and times

1975 - The badly burnt bodies of American tourist Connie Jo Bronzich and an unidentified man found in Kathmandu valley. Police later claimed the body to be of Canadian Laurent Armand Carriere.

1976: Sobhraj arrested in New Delhi and Nepal police put together new case claiming he visited Nepal and killed Bronzich.

1997: India frees Sobhraj from Tihar Jail and extradites him. Both the Indian and French governments ask Nepal if there are any cases against him but Nepal says no.

2003: Sobhraj visits Kathmandu and is recognised by a local daily, who publish his photo. It leads to police arresting him and charging him with coming to Nepal in 1975 on a false passport. Court dismisses false passport case. Police re-arrest him for Bronzich's murder.

2004: Kathmandu district court finds him guilty, sends him to prison for 20 years. Sobhraj fights the conviction.

2005: Patan Appellate Court upholds the guilty verdict. Sobhraj appeals in Supreme Court.

2006: Supreme Court begins to hear his appeal.

2008: Sobhraj claims to have married his fiancée Nihita Biswas inside prison.

"Incredibly, they never even called a single witness."

The murder case, despite its antiquity, has been one of the most sensational that Nepal has ever witnessed.

In December 1975, two badly charred bodies were found in different parts of Kathmandu valley.

The body of the woman, who was first stabbed to death, was identified as that of Connie Jo Bronzich, an American backpacker with an unsavoury reputation of taking drugs and being involved with other addicts.

The second body, that of a male, could not be identified. Police conjectured it could have been that of a Canadian tourist, Laurent Armand Carriere, who had shacked up with Bronzich in Kathmandu.

"The manager of the budget hotel where Bronzich stayed said police suspected Carriere had killed Bronzich and fled," Sobhraj said. "That is also mentioned in the police case file. But after I was arrested in India, someone in Nepal changed his mind and decided to implicate me."

Sobhraj says he never came to Nepal before 2003, when he arrived as a bona fide entrepreneur to explore various ventures, ranging from making documentaries for his Paris-based Gentleman Films company to starting a mineral water business.

On Sep 17, 16 days after his arrival, a local daily carried his photograph, which alerted the police who traced him to a casino and arrested him.

"I saw the photo," Sobhraj scoffed. "If I had been guilty, I would have fled immediately."

Initially, police arrested him on the flimsy charge of having come to Nepal in 1975 on a forged passport.

But as the court acquitted him, he was re-arrested from the court premises and charged with the murder of Bronzich.

"The so-called evidence police produced are two photo-copies," Sobhraj said.

"They are of the guest registers of two hotels where Dutch tourist Henricus Bintanja stayed in 1975. Police say I used Bintanja's passport after killing him in Bangkok and Bintanja's signature is close to the signature in my bona fide passport.

"The Supreme Court has asked them, where are the original registers? And I ask them, where is the evidence that Bintanja came to Nepal in 1975? There is no record at immigration department to show he came or left Nepal. Also, at that time, currency exchange regulations were very strict. Bintanja must have needed Nepali currency. But there are no records to show he changed money."

Sobhraj says after arresting him in 2003, police held him incommunicado for two days. During the time, under the pretext of examining some documents, they made him write several pages, he says.

"Later, they used part of that writing to forge the so-called evidence," he said. "The registers have been created using Photoshop, a computer application that was unavailable in 1975."

The Sobhraj case created sensation after sensation with reports that he was trying to stage a jailbreak, which he hotly denies, and then that he had tied the knot inside the Central Prison in Kathmandu with a Nepali woman more than 40 years his junior.

Then his case was taken up by his Nepali fiancée Nihita Biswas' mother, Shakuntala Thapa, a senior Supreme Court lawyer.

In the course of researching the police evidence, Thapa has told the Supreme Court that there were over 1,000 "fake" documents sent by a retired Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg, which police presented as evidence sent by Interpol.

Knippenberg was based in Bangkok when police suspected Sobhraj of being behind the disappearance of western tourists and became involved in the cases after Bintanja, a Dutch citizen, and his fiancée went missing.

Nepal has been the only country to convict Sobhraj of murder despite allegations that he was a serial killer. In India, he was convicted of robbery but acquitted of murder.

If he is acquitted on Wednesday, Sobhraj plans to visit the gurdwara in Lalitpur town to offer a thanksgiving.

Then he plans a reunion with his daughter, now about eight, by his Chinese girlfriend, in Paris, followed by a civil marriage to Nihita.

If he loses, he is pinning his hope on a complaint he has filed with the UN Human Rights Committee, which will start proceedings by the end of this month.

The committee had already asked Nepal government to answer the allegations of Sobhraj's right violations and the government sent its reply last month.

First Published: Jul 14, 2010 14:02 IST