Cop who investigated 1975 murders settles score as lawyer
KATHMANDU, July 31: Bishwa Lal Shrestha achieved as a lawyer what he couldn´t as a cop.
The former police inspector failed to bring Charles Gurumukh Sobhraj to justice in 1975 when he was given the charge to investigate the murders of American backpacker Connie Jo Bronizch and Canadian backpacker Laurent Armand Carriere.
But after Sobhraj was arrested in Kathmandu in 2003, Shrestha, who resigned from Nepal Police eight years after the murders to become a law practitioner, got another chance to bring the case to conclusion. He was among three lawyers picked up by Bronizch´s parents to fight court battles for their deceased daughter.
He didn´t fail this time.
Shrestha´s team of lawyers was successful in securing a life sentence for Sobhraj in 2004 and in convincing the Appellate Court in 2005 and the Supreme Court on Friday to uphold that verdict.
"I am relieved to know that Bronizch´s 88-year old father John and 86-year-old mother Linda can now rest assured that Sobhraj will serve full sentence for murdering their daughter," Shrestha, 65, said Friday.
"I am hopeful that justice will be done to Carriere too," he added. The Carriere murder case is pending at Bhaktapur District Court.
Of 14 backpackers who came to Nepal with Bronizch in 1975, four are practicing lawyers today. "Their input was invaluable to the case," Shrestha said. The 14 were among the first to leave Kathmandu following the December 1975 killings that brought international attention to Nepal and badly hit Kathmandu´s tourism industry.
Shrestha´s team was a hair´s breadth away from nabbing Sobhraj in 1975 itself. But the con artist and compulsive gambler, who is believed to have taken to crime to support his expensive habits, hoodwinked the police team with his uncanny ability to switch identities, according to Shrestha.
Only days after the dead bodies of the Canadian and the American were found in Sanga and the banks of Manahara River respectively, police arrested Sobhraj and his girlfriend from room number 415 of Hotel Solatee and took them to Hanumandhoka for interrogation.
But the two identified themselves as Bintanja Henricus and his girlfriend, denied knowing Bronizch and Carriere, and were released.
By the time newspapers published from Bangkok carried stories claiming that Sobhraj had murdered Dutch Professor Bintanja Henricus and his Dutch TV star girlfriend in Bangkok before leaving for Kathmandu with their passports, the two had already left Kathmandu.
"The conviction of Sobhraj in Nepal is special in that he served only two jail terms including in Nepal for the murders he committed, though he is believed to have killed 20 Westerners," said Shrestha.
"We are talking about a man who, after serving 11 years in Tihar jail for murder, forced Indian authorities to extend the sentence by eight years by staging a jailbreak in 1986 just to evade extradition to Thailand where he would probably have received death sentence for his crimes," he said.
I was also police inspector in those days. I was in one of the investigation teams setup to look into the criminal cases at Hanuman Dhoka. I vividly remember Charles coming back to the police office inquiring about his ´golden´ pen which he told us that he had ´lost´ the other day. I think he wanted to know what police was doing about the case. He was very smart but made mistakes. Had he not been any foreigner, he would have been arrested on suspicion on that day. But SP