Nepal court rejects 'bikini killer' appeal
Nepal's Supreme Court Friday rejected an appeal against a murder conviction by Charles Sobhraj, the alleged serial killer, con man and prison escape artist linked to backpacker deaths in Asia.
Sobhraj, a French citizen of Vietnamese and Indian parentage, is serving a life sentence in Nepal for the murder of American tourist Connie Joe Bronzich in 1975.
Bronzich was stabbed repeatedly before being burnt almost beyond recognition and then dumped on the outskirts of the Nepalese capital. Sobhraj was found guilty of her murder six years ago.
The 66-year-old, who police describe as a persuasive con man, is known as the "bikini killer" for his links to a string of poisonings, killings and robberies of backpackers across Asia in the 1970s.
He has already served a 21-year sentence in India for culpable homicide, but until 2004 he had never been convicted of murder.
Sobhraj has always maintained his innocence in the Bronzich case, saying he had never visited Nepal before he was arrested at a Kathmandu casino in 2003.
"In my case, there are no documents and no witnesses (to the crime). I think that the court will have to free me," he told AFP in a 2006 interview.
But Supreme Court judge Ram Kumar Prasad Shaha said that while there was no direct evidence against Sobhraj, the circumstantial evidence was sufficient to justify his 2004 conviction. "Therefore, we uphold their verdict," he said.
Dozens of people packed into the tiny courtroom in downtown Kathmandu to hear the ruling on Friday afternoon, among them Nihita Biswas, the young Nepalese woman Sobhraj is reported to have married while in jail.
Biswas, 22 and the daughter of one of Sobhraj's lawyers, wept as the verdict was read out and accused the court of being "completely biased."
Handwriting analysis played a significant part in Sobhraj's conviction, with signatures on two hotel registration cards around the time of the murder said to be his.
His legal team say the originals were never produced during his trial, only photocopies.
Before Friday's verdict, his French lawyer accused prosecutors of fabricating evidence against her client and said she had little hope his conviction would be overturned.
"I am not very optimistic, because they have shown they could not care less about international legal standards," Isabelle Coutant-Peyre told AFP. "Nepal's political and legal institutions are behaving like a gang of thugs."
Sobhraj has escaped from jails in Greece, Afghanistan and India, where he drugged guards with sedative-laced sweets and walked out of a New Delhi jail.
His talent for disguise, evading justice and breaking out of prisons on two continents earned him another sobriquet, "The Serpent".
He also tried to escape from Kathmandu's central jail in November 2004 but guards uncovered the plot.
Sobhraj may also face charges in Nepal for the murder of Laurent Carriere, a friend of Bronzich.
The bodies of Bronzich and Carriere were found in separate locations but just two days apart, and Carriere had also been repeatedly stabbed and burnt.
Sobhraj faced trial only for Bronzich's murder, but police in Nepal say they are preparing to bring charges against him for Carriere's killing. The reason for the long delay was not immediately clear.
© 2010 AFP