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The Tokyo High Court in 2000 convicted Govinda Prasad Mainali for the 1997 robbery and murder of a Tokyo woman, but his brother believes he is innocent and is pushing to have him acquitted — again.

Indra Prasad Mainali, a 46-year-old travel agent, has made a written request to the Supreme Court, which is hearing Govinda’s appeal, to acquit his 36-year-old brother, it was learned Monday.

According to the request, Govinda was gainfully employed and not in urgent need of money, as claimed by the Tokyo High Court, which in December 2000 convicted him of robbing the 39-year-old woman of 40,000 yen and strangling her.

“I strongly believe that my brother (could not) have committed a grave crime in a country where he was making good money, and (while he was) planning to lead a (normal) life in Nepalese society,” Indra wrote.

“He had already earned about 3 million rupees ($37,000) by the time of his arrest,” he said. “When someone has already earned so much money working in a foreign country, how (could) he commit such a serious crime, risking his own life or life imprisonment for a couple of hundred dollars?”

Govinda, who has maintained his innocence, was acquitted by the Tokyo District Court in April 2000, only to be found guilty by the high court after prosecutors appealed, even though the only physical evidence linking him to the victim and the vacant Shibuya Ward apartment where her body was found was circumstantial.

Several human rights groups have argued that Govinda was falsely charged and convicted. After his acquittal, he was in detention awaiting deportation by immigration authorities over a visa violation when prosecutors brought their appeal before the high court.

Indra came to Japan last week at the invitation of his brother’s supporters. Since his arrival, he has visited Govinda several times at the Tokyo Detention House, where Govinda has been kept in a small cell since his 1997 arrest.

Their first meeting in eight years took place in a small interview cell at the detention house on Feb. 4. Only 15 minutes were allowed.

“He seemed so irritated and exhausted, both physically and mentally,” Indra said in an interview with The Japan Times. “I just could not believe how he could survive (life in jail) for years, being forced to sit all day in a dark, small cell so far away from his home.”

Govinda came to Japan in 1994 and worked at Indian restaurants with the dream of building a home for his wife and children back home. He was arrested after the victim was found dead on March 19, 1997, in an empty apartment near where he had lived.

Although acquitted, Govinda was never set free.

While still in detention awaiting deportation, the Tokyo High Court, in a surprise move, approved a request by prosecutors to keep him in custody as they sought to overturn his acquittal.

The state offered no new evidence, but the high court nevertheless found Govinda guilty and sentenced him to life in prison.

Even if Govinda wins his appeal, it probably won’t come anytime soon. The Supreme Court ruling is expected to take another couple of years. And despite the apparent lack of direct physical evidence linking him to the slaying, conviction statistics suggest he is up against tall odds.

The Supreme Court hears around 2,000 appeals annually. In 2000, it ruled in 1,436 criminal cases, acquitting the accused in just one instance and sending two cases back to lower courts. In the remainder, the top court supported high court verdicts and turned down the appeals.

The top court customarily questions a defendant at least once when it overturns a high court ruling, but Govinda and his lawyers have not been summoned in the two years since the Supreme Court began deliberating his case, one of his supporters said.

Indra claimed that Govinda’s conviction after his earlier acquittal has led the Nepalese public to greatly distrust Japan’s judicial system.

Many believe Govinda was victimized by Japanese investigatory and judicial authorities because he is from a country much poorer than Japan, the brother added.

“If my brother was a Caucasian from a more advanced country, I believe that the Japanese authorities would never have treated him in (the) manner they do now,” he said.

In response to requests by Govinda’s family, Nepalese lawmakers asked their country’s foreign minister in parliamentary sessions to lodge an official protest with his Japanese counterpart, but the government has yet to make any such moves, Indra said, noting the political situation in Nepal is currently unstable.

“But I believe that the hesitancy of our government comes from the fact that Japan is the largest aid donor to Nepal,” he said.

Upon leaving Nepal, Indra was asked by his 81-year-old father and 75-year-old mother, who are too old to totally grasp what has befallen Govinda, to bring their son back with him.

“Both are suffering from serious illness, and we are all concerned that my brother (may never) see them alive (again, because of) crimes he never committed,” he said.

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