The French national, also known as ‘The Bikini Killer’, has been accused of murdering more than 20 backpackers in Asia.
Charles Sobhraj, a serial killer known as “The Snake” who police say is responsible for a series of murders in the 1970s and 1980s, will be released from prison in Nepal, the Himalayan country’s Supreme Court has ruled.
The 78-year-old French national has served 19 years in prison for the murders of an American and Canadian backpacker. Life sentences in Nepal are 20 years.
He admitted to killing at least 20 young Western backpackers in Asia, usually by drugging their food or drink, but his 2004 conviction in Nepal was the first time he had been found guilty in court.
Thailand first issued a warrant for his arrest in the mid-1970s on charges of drugging and killing six women on a Pattaya beach.
Sobhraj is known as “The Bikini Killer” and “The Serpent” due to his ability to disguise himself and assume other identities to evade justice. He managed to escape from a prison in India in the mid-1980s. He was later captured and imprisoned in the Tihar maximum security prison in New Delhi until 1997. He reappeared in September 2003 in Kathmandu.
“Keeping him in prison continuously is not in line with the prisoner’s human rights,” read a copy of the verdict on Wednesday seen by the AFP news agency.
“If there are no other processes pending against him to keep him in prison, this court orders his release for today and… his return to his country within 15 days,” he said.
Sobhraj required open-heart surgery and his release complied with a law that allows for the compassionate discharge of bedridden prisoners who have already served three-quarters of their sentence, the verdict added.
Murders on the hippie trail
After a troubled childhood and several prison terms in France for petty crimes, Sobhraj began traveling the world in the early 1970s, befriending and stealing from young backpackers as he trekked the Hippie Trail from Europe to Southeast Asia.
“He was cultured, courteous,” said Nadine Gires, who befriended Sobhraj when she moved into his Bangkok apartment building in 1975.
But he soon grew fearful of his fast-talking neighbor, who posed as a gem dealer to lure cash-strapped travelers before allegedly drugging, robbing and killing them.
“A lot of people were getting sick at home,” he told AFP last year. “Not only was he a con man, a seducer, a tourist thief, but an evil murderer.”
Sobhraj underwent a five-hour heart operation in 2017, and Wednesday’s verdict said he continued to receive regular treatment for heart disease.
Sobhraj is likely to be released from Kathmandu Central Jail on Thursday, a prison official told AFP.
He will first have to appear before a lower court for administrative proceedings before he can go free, the official said.
He is accused of strangling, beating or burning backpackers and often using the passports of his male victims to travel to their next destination.
Sobhraj’s nickname, “The Serpent”, became the title of a hit series made by the BBC and Netflix, which was based on his life.
In prison in 2008, Sobhraj married Nihita Biswas, 44 years his junior and the daughter of his Nepali lawyer.
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