Kathmandu, July 7 (IANS) “It’s all out war now,” said Shakuntala Thapa, a steely look in her eyes, as she spoke on her mobile telephone.”Since I have become the publicly announced mother-in-law of Charles Sobhraj from today, you must help my son-in-law.”Now I am going to stake body and soul in getting him acquitted.”
The frail Nepali lawyer, though well-known in Nepal’s legal circles, became a public figure overnight Monday when a local daily carried her photograph on its front page.”Nihita’s mom to defend Sobhraj,” the report in the Himalayan Times daily said.”It’s a 15-year-old photograph,” Thapa said with a disdainful toss of her short, curly hair. “If they had asked me, I’d have given them a current snapshot.”
Then she becomes serious.”I became involved with Charles Sobhraj’s case about a month ago,” she says. “I am surprised at the tremendously bitter reports the news of his engagement to my daughter Nihita has generated in a section of the press.”As my client, I am giving him priority over my daughter. I am committed to protecting his interests.”Thapa, who has been practising for nearly 20 years and is also contesting the upcoming election to Nepal Bar Association, says she is amazed at the controversy about Sobhraj being a bigamist.
“You are a bigamist when you marry two people at the same time,” she says. “An engagement is not marriage and Sobhraj can never be married as long as he is prison.”She says she is in touch with Sobhraj’s ex-wife and other lawyers, has examined his divorce document and is satisfied with it.According to Sobhraj, he married a French woman in 1969 but they divorced in 1974 with a French tribunal issuing the decree.
He also says his ex-wife married an American subsequently and they had a daughter, a fact that is mentioned in two books written about him – “Serpentine” and the “Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj” – that were presented in Nepal’s Supreme Court as “evidence” by the prosecution.
“People who have been writing these things about Charles and reading them do not know him personally,” Thapa says. “They are basing their thinking on media reports about him, most of which is incorrect.”Thapa rejects the continuous stream of reports that describe Sobhraj as a serial killer.”It’s defamatory,” she says. “Show me one piece of evidence or document to substantiate it. He was never convicted of murder in any country. In Nepal, the charge that he killed an American in 1975 is still being heard in Supreme Court.”
The mother of 64-year-old Sobhraj’s 20-year-old fiancÃ©e says police are delaying the final verdict.”The Supreme Court asked police and immigration on what basis they arrested Sobhraj in 2003, when he came to Nepal,” she says. “Neither have been able to produce any original document that can corroborate their claim that he came to Nepal in 1975 using a forged passport.”
Thapa suspects the persistently defamatory anti-Sobhraj reports in a section of the media have a hidden motive.”These reports come up every time it’s time for his next hearing,” she says. “We need to investigate who is spreading these rumours and with what intent.”Her daughter, she says, did not go to the press with the news of her engagement to arouse public sympathy.
“The media dug it up,” she says. “But what is its interest? The love story or an intention to use it to harm Sobhraj?”She says she also condemns the bid by some journalists to link her and Sobhraj with the Maoists.”Everyone has some political ideology,” she says. “I have mine.””But that is a private matter.
“What some people have been trying to do is to spread the rumour that Sobhraj has some kind of nexus with the Maoists.
“He is a non-Nepali and right now, he is behind bars, robbed of political and other rights. So how can he ever have links with the Maoists?”