Charles Sobhraj, the French serial killer who took the lives of several young foreigners in Asia during the 1970s, was on his way to France on Friday after being released from a Nepali jail after spending nearly 20 years locked up.
The 78-year-old was brought to Kathmandu airport where he boarded a flight to Paris after being released from Kathmandu’s Central Jail. He was scheduled to arrive on Saturday morning on a connecting flight from Doha.
Earlier, Sobhraj, whose life was documented in the Netflix documentary “The Serpent,” was driven out of the prison through a crowd of media in a blue police car.
He did not speak to reporters when making his exit, while donning a medical face mask, a brown wool cap, and a blue puffer coat. He was surrounded by cops wearing bulletproof vests.
His lawyer confirmed that he would fly on Friday after Nepal’s highest court decided on Wednesday that he must be deported within 15 days.
“Nepal’s government wants to send him back as soon as possible. Sobhraj also wants that,” lawyer Dr Gopal Shiwakoti Chintan told journalists, confirming that the Frenchman would travel on a Qatar Airways flight at 6:00pm (7.15pm, Bangkok time).
After serving more than three-quarters of his sentence for the 1970s murders of a US tourist and a Canadian in Nepal, the court approved Sobhraj’s parole on medical grounds. Sobhraj underwent heart surgery in 2017.
Sobhraj, who was born in Saigon to an Indian father and a Vietnamese mother who subsequently wed a Frenchman, began a worldwide life of crime and, in 1975, found himself in Thailand.
He would befriend his victims, many of whom were Western hikers travelling on the hippy path in the 1970s, while pretending to be a gem merchant before drugging, robbing, and killing them.
He was accused of murdering a young American woman whose body was discovered on a beach in a bikini in 1975.
He subsequently gained the moniker “Bikini Killer” and was implicated in over 20 homicides.
He was imprisoned in India for 21 years after his arrest in 1976, with the exception of a short escape attempt in 1986 when he drugged the prison guards. In the Goa coastal region of India, he was apprehended once again.
After being freed in 1997, Sobhraj stayed in Paris and gave media paid interviews until returning to Nepal in 2003.
One of the founders of the Himalayan Times newspaper, writer Joseph Nathan, saw him playing baccarat at a casino and alerted the authorities who arrested him.
“He looked harmless … It was sheer luck that I recognised him,” Nathan told AFP on Thursday. “I think it was karma.”
Sobhraj was given a life sentence by a Nepali court the following year for the 1975 murder of American tourist Connie Jo Bronzich. He was also convicted guilty of murdering Bronzich’s Canadian travelling partner ten years later.
Sobhraj insisted from behind bars that he was not responsible for either murder and that he had never visited Nepal prior to the journey that led to 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 Interpol officer, Pol Maj Gen Sompol Suthimai, had lobbied for him to be extradited to Thailand and face the courts for murders here. His work with Interpol had been crucial in obtaining the 1976 arrest.
But on Thursday, Sompol told AFP that as both himself and the criminal he had been pursuing were now elderly, he could see no objections to the release.
“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.”