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South Asia News

Hunt still on for Sobhraj's partner in crime



Kathmandu, July 12 (IANS) While serial killer Charles Sobhraj, caught and slapped with life imprisonment in Nepal for murder, has begun a legal fight to get his sentence overturned, Nepal's police are still searching for an Indian, believed to have been the Frenchman's partner in crime.

Ajay Chowdhury, a former resident of New Delhi, was allegedly Sobhraj's trusted lieutenant in the 70s, helping him commit a series of murders, robberies and passport thefts, according to the Nepal police and Interpol.

Chowdhury is also suspected of burning the victims' bodies to prevent quick identification.

According to Interpol, in December 1975, Sobhraj and Canadian Marie-Andree Leclerc, who was his mistress as well as second accomplice, came to Kathmandu from Bangkok, where they had set up base.

In Bangkok, Sobhraj and his partners killed Dutch tourist Henricus Bintanja and his girlfriend Cornelia Hemker. Then Sobhraj and Leclerc used the victims' passports to arrive in Kathmandu.

According to the Nepal police, Sobhraj befriended American backpacker Connie Jo Bronzich and her companion Canadian Laurent Carriere in Kathmandu, killed both and, following his old modus operandi, burnt the bodies.

Chowdhury was also in Kathmandu at that time and was spotted in the five-star hotel where Sobhraj was staying. He is also believed to have been involved in the grisly double murder.

'After the discovery of the bodies, we traced Chowdhury to a hotel in Kathmandu - Monumental Lodge near the historic royal palace in Basantapur,' says Bishwa Lal Shrestha, who was the police officer investigating the case in 1975. 'But he gave us the slip. When we reached the lodge, we found he had slipped out minutes before.'

The trio - Sobhraj, Leclerc and Chowdhury - left Nepal by land to go to Varanasi in India, where they continued with murders and robberies.

Sobhraj's luck ran out in 1976 when both he and Leclerc were arrested and sent to jail. She agreed to testify against him, was paroled and deported to Canada. In 1984, the 38-year-old Leclerc died of ovarian cancer.

However, despite Delhi Police's attempts to nab him, Chowdhury remained at large.

According to a book published on Sobhraj, in 1976 the three had gone to Malaysia where Chowdhury was sent on an errand to collect gems from a mining town. When he returned, the two men went into a jungle but only Sobhraj returned.

Shrestha, however, discounts the theory that Chowdhury was murdered by Sobhraj to obliterate records of their crimes.

'Chowdhury was spotted much later in Germany,' he says.

When the nearly three-decade-old double murder case file was reopened in Nepal in 2003 following Sobhraj's arrest in Kathmandu, the police once again began a lookout for Chowdhury.

'I feel Nepal is safer for him than India,' Shrestha says. 'The Indian police are more organised, also, he is better known in India. In Nepal, after 30 years, it would be easy for Chowdhury to hide himself.'

Even the Interpol file on Chowdhury still remains open.



© 2006 Indo-Asian News Service