Charles Sobhraj is a French serial killer who was responsible for many murders across Asia in the 1970s. He arrived in France Saturday, after spending almost 20 years in Nepali prison.
On Wednesday, Nepal’s highest court ruled that he should be released on medical grounds and sent to France within 15 days.
He was released on Friday and taken to Kathmandu airport for a flight to Paris via Doha. During the flight to Doha he claimed to an AFP journalist that he was innocent.
The story of Sobhraj’s life is told in “The Serpent”, a series co-produced by Netflix, the BBC and other streaming platforms.
He posed as a jewel trader and would make friends with his victims, many of whom were Western backpackers who had been following the 1970s hippie trail. Then he would drug, rob, and then murder them.
“I feel great… There is so much to do. I must sue many people. Sobhraj said that this included the state of Nepal to AFP, which he was speaking onboard the plane.
When asked if he believed he was wrongly called a serial killer, the 78 year-old replied: “Yes, yes.”
An AFP reporter confirmed that he landed in Paris on Saturday morning.
According to an airport source, he was taken by border police upon arrival in Paris for additional “identity checks”.
According to the airport source, he was not wanted by French authorities and would be allowed to leave once all checks have been completed.
– ‘Bikini killer’ –
Sobhraj was born in Saigon to an Indian mother and a Vietnamese father. She later married a Frenchman. Sobhraj began an international crime life and ended up in Thailand.
He was sophisticated and suave in his involvement in the murder of a young American girl, whose body was discovered on a beach wearing only a bikini.
Sobhraj, also known as the “bikini murderer”, was eventually connected to more than 20 killings.
In 1976, he was detained in India. He spent 21 years here. A brief break occurred in 1986, when he drank prison guards of marijuana and fled. He was captured in Goa.
Sobhraj was released in 1997 and lived in Paris. He gave interviews to journalists but returned to Nepal in 2003.
– ‘Karma’ –
Joseph Nathan, one the founders and editors of the Himalayan Times newspaper, saw him in a casino and had him arrested.
He looked innocent… Nathan said that he recognized him by sheer chance on Thursday.
“I believe it was karma.”
In Nepal, a court sentenced Sobhraj to life for the 1975 murder of Connie Jo Bronzich, a tourist from the USA. He was also found guilty of the murder of Bronzich’s Canadian companion a decade later.
Sobhraj, a Qatar Airways passenger who was bemused by the deaths in Nepal, spoke to AFP on Friday.
He said that all judges in Nepal, from the district court to the high court to the supreme court, were biased against Charles Sobhraj.
“I am innocent of those cases, OK?” That’s why I don’t feel bad or guilty. I am innocent. He added that it was constructed on false documents.
Sompol Suthimai, a Thai police officer — whose Interpol work was instrumental in the 1976 arrest — had demanded that Sobhraj be extradited from Thailand to be tried for murders.
On Thursday, Sompol said to AFP that he didn’t object to the release because both he, and the criminal he had once pursued, were too old.
Sompol, 90, stated that he doesn’t feel any affection towards him because it’s been so many years.
“I believe he has already paid the price for his actions.”
On Friday, he was released and put on a flight at Kathmandu airport to take him to Paris via Doha. While on the flight to Doha, he insisted to an AFP journalist that he was “innocent”.
Sobhraj’s life was chronicled in the series “The Serpent”, co-produced by Netflix and the BBC.
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.
“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 Friday onboard the plane.
Asked if he thought he had been wrongly described as a serial killer, the 78-year-old said: “Yes, yes.”
He landed in the French capital on Saturday morning, an AFP reporter confirmed.
On arrival at Paris, he was taken away by border police for extra “identity checks”, according to an airport source.
The airport source said he was “not wanted” by the authorities in France and that once all the checks had been carried out, he would be able to leave the airport.
– ‘Bikini killer’ –
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.
Suave and sophisticated, he was implicated in the murder of a young American woman, whose body was found on a beach wearing a bikini.
Nicknamed the “bikini killer”, Sobhraj was eventually linked to more than 20 murders.
He was arrested in India in 1976 and ultimately spent 21 years in jail here, with a brief break in 1986 when he drugged prison guards and escaped. He was recaptured in Goa.
Released in 1997, Sobhraj lived in Paris, giving paid interviews to journalists, but went back to Nepal in 2003.
– ‘Karma’ –
He was 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 Sobhraj 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.
Talking to AFP among bemused fellow Qatar Airways passengers on Friday, Sobhraj insisted he was innocent of the killings in Nepal.
“The courts in Nepal, from (the) district court to high court to supreme court, all the judges, they were biased against Charles Sobhraj,” he said.
“I am innocent in those cases, OK? So I don’t have to feel bad for that, or good. I am innocent. It was built on fake documents,” he added.
Thai police officer Sompol Suthimai — whose work with Interpol was instrumental in securing the 1976 arrest — had pushed for Sobhraj to be extradited to Thailand and tried for murders there.
But on Thursday, Sompol told AFP 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 Sompol, 90.
“I think he has already paid for his actions.”