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Top court in Nepal orders release of French serial killer Charles Sobhraj

Nepal’s Supreme Court has ordered the release of a notorious French serial killer known as “The Serpent”, who police say is responsible for a string of murders in the 1970s and 1980s in Europe and Asia.

Supreme Court judges Sapana Pradhan Malla and Til Prasad Shrestha ordered the release of Charles Sobhraj on Wednesday and instructed authorities to deport him from Nepal, after 19 years in prison.

“The court has ordered that if there is no other reason to keep him in jail, he should be released and sent back to his country within 15 days,” the Supreme Court’s spokesperson Bimal Paudel said.

Sobhraj, 78, has been accused of killing over 20 young Western backpackers travelling in several countries, usually by drugging their food or drink.

He had completed 19 years of his 20-year sentence in a Nepal jail.

The court cited his old age and health as mitigating circumstances for the release.

Sobhraj needed open heart surgery and his release was in keeping with the law allowing the compassionate discharge of bedridden prisoners who had already served three-quarters of their sentence, the verdict added.

The notorious murderer underwent a five-hour cardiac operation in 2017 and the verdict said he remained in regular treatment for heart disease.

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Evading arrests

Convicts sentenced to life imprisonment in Nepal usually serve 20 years in jail.

“He had already served 95 percent of his jail term and should have released earlier due to his age,” Sobhraj’s lawyer Ram Bandhu Sharma said, adding that Sobhraj could be released from prison as early as Thursday.

Sobharaj was known as “The Serpent” because of his ability to disguise himself following his escape from a prison in India in the mid-1980s, where he was serving 21 years on murder charges.

Last year, the BBC and Netflix jointly produced a TV series also called “The Serpent”, which dramatises his crimes.

His victims were strangled, beaten or burned, and he often used the passports of his male victims to travel to his next destination.

In Thailand, he was known as the “Bikini Killer”, for his alleged role in drugging and killing six women, all wearing bikinis, on a beach at Pattaya in the mid-1970s. Although a warrant was issued against him, he also evaded arrest there. 

He was later caught and jailed in India until 1997.

Sobhraj was born in Saigon, Vietnam at a time when it was still a French colony, allowing him to secure French nationality.

Sobhraj returned to France after his release from India and in 2003 was arrested from a casino in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu and later charged there for murdering American backpacker Connie Jo Bronzich. He was also later convicted of killing Bronzich’s Canadian companion.

He has been held in a high-security jail in Kathmandu since 2003.

While still in prison in 2008, Sobhraj married Nihita Biswas, who is 44 years his junior and the daughter of his Nepalese lawyer.

Sobhraj was also suspected of killing other victims in Afghanistan, Iran, France, Greece, Malaysia and Türkiye among other countries.

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