Nepal court to rule on 'bikini killer' appeal

30th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Nepal's Supreme Court was to rule Friday on a murder conviction appeal by Charles Sobhraj, the alleged serial killer, con man and prison escape artist linked to a clutch of backpacker deaths in Asia.

Sobhraj, a French citizen of Vietnamese and Indian parentage, is currently 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.

A talent for disguise, evading justice, and breaking out of prisons spanning two continents, earned him another sobriquet, "The Serpent".

He 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.

His French lawyer this week accused prosecutors in Nepal of fabricating evidence against her client, but 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."

Dozens of people packed into the tiny courtroom in downtown Kathmandu to await the verdict 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, said recently she was "confident of a complete acquittal."

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 lawyers say the originals were never produced during his trial, only photocopies.

"I really didn't do it, and I think I will be out," Sobhraj told AFP in a 2006 interview about his murder conviction in Nepal.

"In my case, there are no documents and no witnesses (to the crime). I think that the court will have to free me."

Sobhraj, a French national born to Vietnamese and Indian parents, 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.

He also tried to escape from Kathmandu's central jail in November 2004 but guards uncovered the plot.

Even if his conviction is overturned, he may still 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.

Bishwalal Shrestha, the police inspector who carried out the investigation into Bronzich's death, insisted there was sufficient evidence to prove Sobhraj was her killer.

"This has been a long and drawn-out case but we are confident that the verdict will be in our favour," he told AFP.

"This guy was here and he is guilty. The court has all the witness testimony and documents it needs to prove that."

© 2010 AFP

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