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Charles Sobhraj hopes 13 will prove lucky for him

IANS
Jan 21, 2008 at 02:10pm IST

Kathmandu: From his bleak cell in Kathmandu's central prison, Charles Sobhraj, serving a 20-year jail term for an ancient crime, is waiting for Feb 13, hoping the date considered inauspicious by many will prove lucky for him.

The 63-year-old, whose hope to be free was dashed by Nepal's Supreme Court last month, is gearing for a fresh legal battle with the apex court ordering a retrial.

While he waits for the Feb 13 retrial, Sobhraj is also exploring other avenues to freedom.

COUNTING ON LUCK: Sobhraj is waiting for Feb 13 hoping that it will prove lucky for his legal battle with apex court.

This month, he sent a plea to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, urging him to intervene with the government of Nepal.

"Mr President," Sobhraj wrote in the letter sent from prison, "You symbolise France's new face, a new generation. My wife and myself believe in you. She voted for you and I would have done the same had I been able to vote."

"You have acted as no president had done before. Which is why I am turning to you today and asking for your help. I have been illegally incarcerated in Nepal since Sept 2003, accused of a 30-yr old murder which I have not committed. I am innocent," he said.

His phenomenal luck, that had saved Sobhraj during his career in crime through Asia in the 70s, apparently deserted him after he reformed and became a staid businessman in Paris in the 90s.

When Sobhraj came to Nepal in 2003, with the avowed aim of shooting a documentary and exploring business possibilities, he was arrested and charged with visiting the Himalayan kingdom in 1975 on a fake passport.

Though the district court dismissed the charge, he was re-arrested and charged with the murder of American backpacker Connie Jo Bronzich the same year.

The courts were not so kind to him this time. He was pronounced guilty and slapped with a 20-year jail term.

Sobhraj has been fighting the charge doggedly, insisting he never came to Nepal before 2003. He says police faked the so-called evidence against him and the courts did not apply the law while sentencing him.

After hiring the best lawyers of Nepal to fight his case, Sobhraj had expected to be set free in December, when the Supreme Court was to pronounce its final verdict.

To his shock, the judges instead ordered that the fake passport case be re-opened.

Sobhraj's letter to Sarkozy points out the delays he had to suffer during the trial and how the verdict was put off repeatedly.

He also says that a French handwriting expert has dismissed as crude forgery the 'evidence' presented by police.

Sobhraj's letter to Sarkozy follows an earlier plea sent to the French leader by his Parisian lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre.

Perhaps for the first time, Sobhraj has made a tacit apology for his past that probably proved his undoing in Nepal, prejudicing the courts against him.

"Indeed I made mistakes in the past," the frail, aging Sobhraj wrote to Sarkozy. "But I paid for them. I have not committed the murder I am being accused of and I consider that, at this stage of my life, I have the right to enjoy a few peaceful years with my loved ones."

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