By AFP and published by CNA
Kathmandu, Nepal – French serial killer Charles Sobhraj, responsible for multiple murders of young foreigners in the 1970s across Asia, was freed on Friday (Dec. 23) after spending almost 20 years in a Nepali jail.
Sobhraj, 78, whose life was chronicled in the successful series The Serpent, was driven out of the prison in a blue police vehicle through a scrum of reporters.
The French national was taken to immigration detention where he was escorted inside wearing a medical face mask, brown woolly hat and blue puffer jacket ringed by police in bulletproof jackets.
Nepal’s top court ruled on Wednesday that he should be deported within 15 days but his lawyer later suggested this might be delayed because of health issues.
“Once he is taken to the immigration, then it will be decided what would be the next course. He has a heart issue, so he wants to get treatment from the Gangalal hospital,” lawyer Gopal Shiwakoti Chintan told reporters.
The court ordered that Sobhraj, who had heart surgery in 2017, should be released on health grounds after serving more than three-quarters of his sentence for murdering a US tourist and a Canadian in Nepal in the 1970s.
A French foreign affairs ministry spokesman told AFP on Thursday that its embassy in Nepal was monitoring the situation.
“If a request for expulsion is notified to them, France would be required to grant it since Mr Sobhraj is a French national,” he said.
Born in Saigon to an Indian father and a Vietnamese mother who later married a Frenchman, Sobhraj embarked on an international life of crime and ended up in Thailand in 1975.
Posing as a gem trader, he would befriend his victims, many of them Western backpackers on the 1970s hippie trail, before drugging, robbing and murdering them.
Suave and sophisticated, he was implicated in his first murder, a young American woman whose body was found on a beach wearing a bikini, in 1975.
Nicknamed the “bikini killer”, he was eventually linked to more than 20 murders.
He was arrested in India in 1976 and ultimately spent 21 years in jail there, with a brief break in 1986 when he drugged prison guards and escaped. He was recaptured in the Indian coastal state of Goa.
Released in 1997, Sobhraj lived in Paris, giving paid interviews to journalists, but went back to Nepal in 2003.
He was then dramatically spotted in a casino playing baccarat by journalist Joseph Nathan, one of the founders of the Himalayan Times newspaper, and arrested.
“He looked harmless … It was sheer luck that I recognised him,” Nathan told AFP on Thursday. “I think it was karma.”
A court in Nepal handed him a life sentence the following year for killing US tourist Connie Jo Bronzich in 1975. A decade later he was also found guilty of killing Bronzich’s Canadian companion.
Behind bars, Sobhraj maintained he was innocent of both murders and claimed he had never been to Nepal before the trip that resulted in his arrest.
“I really didn’t do it, and I think I will be out,” he told AFP in 2007 during an interview at Kathmandu’s Central Jail.
Thai police officer Sompol Suthimai, whose work with Interpol was instrumental in securing the 1976 arrest, had pushed for him to be extradited to Thailand and tried for murders there.
But on Thursday, he told AFP that he did not object to the release, as both he and the criminal he once pursued were now too old.
“I don’t have any feelings towards him now that it’s been so long,” said Suthimai, 90. “I think he has already paid for his actions.”
Top: In prison, Sobhraj reportedly lived in relative comfort, provided with a foam pillow, mineral water and meals from a Kathmandu restaurant. Photo: AFP/Prakash Mathema and published by CNA
First insert: Charles Sobhraj is escorted by police to a New Delhi court on Apr. 12, 1994 for his trial in connection with a 1986 jailbreak in the Indian capital. Photo: AFP/Raveendran and published by CNA
Seocnd insert: Charles Sobhraj, flanked by his daughter Muriel Anouk, is escorted by police to a New Delhi court on Apr, 12, 1994 for his trial in connection with a 1986 jailbreak in the Indian capital. Photo: AFP/Raveendran and published by CNA
Third insert: Baan Bellawin apartments, where parts of the Netflix series The Serpent about French serial killer Charles Sobhraj were filmed, is pictured in Bangkok on Dec. 22, 2022. Photo: AFP/Jack Taylor and published by CNA
First below: A life-size statue of French serial killer Charles Sobhraj is placed at a restaurant in Porvorim from where he was first arrested in April 1986 by the Mumbai Police, in Goa on Dec. 22, 2022. Photo: AFP/Atish Naik and published by CNA
Second Page: Policemen escort Charles Sobhraj to the immigration office in Kathmandu on Dec. 23, 2022. Photo: AFP/Chandra Bahadur Ale Gorkha and published by CNA
Front Page: Photo taken on Aug. 19, 2008 French serial killer Charles Sobhraj is guided by Nepalese policemen towards a waiting vehicle after a court ruling in Kathmandu. Photo: AFP/Prakash Mathema and published by CNA
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