Killer dubbed ‘The Serpent’ arrives in France from Nepal

Killer dubbed ‘The Serpent’ arrives in France from Nepal

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PARIS (AP) — Convicted murderer Charles Sobhraj, suspected of killing at least 20 tourists across Asia in the 1970s, arrived in Paris on Saturday a free man after being released from a life sentence in a Nepalese prison was.

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It was the latest twist in a dramatic life story portrayed in a BBC-Netflix co-produced series called The Serpent, which aired last year. He has admitted to killing western tourists across Asia in the past.

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“I’m fine, I’m happy” to be in France, he told The Associated Press in a brief phone call after arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. “We’ll have lunch.”

Sobhraj, a 78-year-old French national, was jailed in 1975 for the deaths of American and Canadian backpackers in Nepal but was released on Friday on health and other grounds.

His French lawyer, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, told The AP that Sobhraj will appeal his conviction in Nepal, describing him as “optimistic” and resilient after nearly 20 years behind bars.

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French filmmaker Jean-Charles Deniau, who escorted Sobhraj from Paris airport and is releasing a film and book about his life, said: “He is fine. He has medication. He will live in Paris and a little bit everywhere.”

French serial killer Charles Sobhraj leaves Kathmandu District Court after his hearing in Kathmandu May 31, 2011.
French serial killer Charles Sobhraj leaves Kathmandu District Court after his hearing in Kathmandu May 31, 2011. Photo by Navesh Chitrakar/File Photo /REUTERS

The French government did not respond to requests for comment on whether he could be challenged in court in France. Sobhraj was born during French rule in Vietnam and claims French citizenship.

Between 1972 and 1982 he is said to have killed at least 20 people in Afghanistan, India, Thailand, Turkey, Nepal, Iran and Hong Kong.

But despite several court cases against him, judicial authorities across the region have struggled to convict him of the killings — or keep him behind bars.

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He was arrested in New Delhi in 1976 and accused of murdering two tourists and stealing their jewellery. He was found guilty of theft but acquitted of murder. In Thailand, he faced 14 murder charges. He avoided extradition by remaining in the courts in India until the end of the Thai trial in 1996. In Thailand he was threatened with the death penalty.

In 1986, he escaped from the maximum-security Tihar prison in New Delhi after tricking guards into sharing a drug-laced birthday cake, but was later arrested again.

In 1997 he was deported from India to France, where he lived freely but was investigated for allegedly trying to poison a group of French tourists in India.

He resurfaced in a casino in the Nepalese city of Kathmandu in 2003, being questioned about the unsolved murders of an American and a Canadian backpacker, whose charred bodies were found on the outskirts of town. He was convicted the following year and sentenced to life imprisonment.

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Sobhraj has maintained his innocence in the case, although he has spoken of killing other tourists in the past. When he was released from Indian prison, he said he regretted aspects of his past.

Life sentences in Nepal are 20 years. Announcing his release this week, Nepal’s Supreme Court said he has heart disease, has already served more than 75% of his sentence and behaved well in prison, making him eligible for release.

He was released on Friday and told to leave Nepal within 15 days. A friend helped finance a ticket to France and the French embassy prepared travel documents allowing him to leave the country, lawyer Gopal Siwakoti Chitan said.

His French lawyer welcomed his release. “I am very happy but also very shocked that it has taken 19 years to regain his normal freedom,” Coutant-Peyre said at the airport. She said his conviction for murder in Nepal was a “fabricated case” and said the French government had not done enough to help or defend him.

She said Sobhraj watched The Serpent series and said it was “first of all rubbish, and 70 percent of it is dead wrong”.

In particular, the series chronicles how Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg launched an international investigation into the alleged murders of Sobhraj.

His nickname “Snake” comes from his reputation as a disguise and escape artist. He was also known as the “bikini killer” because he often targeted young women.

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