‘Bikini Killer’ to know fate

2010-07-14 11:30

Kathmandu - Nepal's Supreme Court was set to rule on Wednesday on a murder conviction appeal by "Bikini Killer" Charles Sobhraj, the Frenchman linked to a series of backpacker killings across Asia in the 1970s.

Sobhraj is currently serving a 20-year life sentence for the murder of American backpacker Connie Joe Bronzich in 1975.

Bronzich had been stabbed repeatedly and her body - burnt almost beyond recognition -- was found dumped on the outskirts of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu.

Sobhraj, 65, was convicted of her murder in 2004, although he has always maintained that he was not in Nepal at the time of the killing.

A previous appeal against the conviction was rejected in 2005.

Handwriting evidence

Sobhraj maintains he had never visited Nepal before he was arrested at a Kathmandu casino in 2003, although a retired policeman has since testified that was spotted in the country in 1975.

Handwriting analysis played a significant part in the 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.

"After fighting for years, we want this to be settled soon. We are hopeful," Ram Bandu Sharma, one of Sobhraj's lawyers for the last seven years, told AFP.

Sharma said Sobhraj, a self-trained legal expert, would not be present when the Supreme Court decision is delivered.

Born to Vietnamese and Indian parents but of French nationality, Sobhraj has been linked to the deaths of at least 12 backpackers across Asia in the 1970s - events that led to the "Bikini Killer" sobriquet.

He was previously convicted in India and served 21 years in prison for culpable homicide. He was eventually released and returned to live in France.

Prison breaks

His reputation has been fuelled by numerous successful prison escapes from jails in Greece, Afghanistan and India, where he drugged guards with sedative-laced sweets and walked out of New Delhi's high-security Tihar jail.

His audacious escape from Tihar in 1986 earned him an extended sentence when he was recaptured - a scenario some believe Sobhraj had engineered to avoid extradition to Thailand where there was a murder warrant for his arrest.

When he was finally released from Tihar in 1997, the Thai warrant had expired and Sobhraj went to live in Paris, where he was believed to be based until his arrest in Kathmandu in 2003.

In a 2006 interview with AFP, Sobhraj had said he was confident his conviction would eventually be overturned.

"I really didn't do it, and I think I will be out," he said. "In my case, there are no documents and no witnesses (to the crime). I think that the court will have to free me."

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