'Serpent' Sobhraj headed back to France
French serial killer Charles Sobhraj, responsible for multiple murders in the 1970s in Thailand and across Asia, was heading to France on Friday after being freed following almost 20 years in a Nepali prison.
After leaving Kathmandu Central Jail, the 78-year-old was taken to Kathmandu airport where he boarded a flight to Paris. He was due to arrive on Saturday morning via Doha.
“I feel great. … I have a lot to do. I have to sue a lot of people. Including the state of Nepal,” Sobhraj told AFP on board a plane for his deportation.
Asked if he thought he had been wrongly described as a serial killer, the 78-year-old said: “Yes, yes.”
He maintains he was innocent of the two murders in Nepal for which he served almost 20 years for in prison.
“When I came in (went to prison), I didn’t do anything,” he said.
“I am innocent in those cases, okay? So I don’t have to feel bad for that, or good. I am innocent. It was built on fake documents.”
He added: “The district judge, without calling a single witness … and without giving notice (to) the accused to present an argument, he wrote the verdict.”
Sobhraj, whose life was chronicled in the Netflix series The Serpent, was earlier driven out of the prison in a blue police vehicle through a scrum of reporters.
Wearing a medical face mask, brown woolly hat and blue puffer coat, and ringed by police in bulletproof jackets, he made no comment to journalists as he left.
Nepal’s top court ruled on Wednesday that he should be deported within 15 days and his lawyer said a ticket had been booked for him.
“Nepal’s government wants to send him back as soon as possible. Sobhraj also wants that. So I arranged for him the ticket of Qatar (Airways) at 6pm. The French embassy is bringing him his travel documents,” his 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.
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.”