Serial killer Charles Sobhraj, 'The Serpent', to be released from Nepal prison

French citizen is suspected of killing at least 20 foreign tourists in Asia during the 1970s

Charles Sobhraj leaves a Kathmandu district court after a hearing on May 31, 2011. Reuters
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Charles Sobhraj, a serial killer dubbed "The Serpent" after escaping from prison in several countries, was due to be released from jail in Nepal after serving nearly 20 years for the murder of two backpackers in Kathmandu.

Sobhraj, 78, a French citizen born to an Indian father and a Vietnamese mother, is suspected of robbing and killing at least 20 western backpackers along the “hippie trail” in Asia during the 1970s.

He had been held in a high-security jail since 2003 after being convicted of the 1975 murder in Kathmandu of Connie Jo Bronzich, an American backpacker. He was later convicted of murdering Ms Bronzich’s Canadian friend Laurent Carriere in the same year.

Sobhraj was expected to be released on Thursday but his lawyer said he would not leave prison until Friday.

"He is staying in the Central Jail again today. He will be sent to the immigration department tommorrow," Gopal Shiwakoti Chintan told reporters.

Pictures circulated on social media on Thursday showed Sobhraj doing paperwork for his release. He is expected to fly back to France once he is freed.

Nepal’s top court on Wednesday ordered that Sobhraj be released on “humanitarian grounds”, citing his age.

Nepal's laws allow the release of convicts above 65 years of age who have completed 75 per cent of their jail term and have shown good conduct while in prison.

Nepalese policemen escort Charles Sobhraj after a court hearing in Kathmandu on May 31, 2011. AFP

Lawyers for Sobhraj have maintained that his conviction was based on assumption.

He met Ms Bronzich in Kathmandu in 1975 and approached her posing as a gem dealer.

Her body was found in a deserted area about 20km from the hotel where both of them were staying separately.

Sobhraj had petitioned the Nepalese government for early release, citing a heart condition and dental problems. The French embassy in Kathmandu also reportedly lobbied for his release.

He also earned the name “bikini killer” for targeting foreign tourists in Thailand, where he was charged with drugging and killing six women whose bodies were found near a resort in Pattaya.

He spent a total of 21 years in prison in India. He escaped from Delhi’s high-security Tihar Jail in 1986 by giving the guards drugged sweets but was captured days later. He was finally released in 1997 and returned to France.

Sobhraj visited Kathmandu in 2003 and was spotted by a journalist who followed him for two weeks. After the news reports were published, the Nepal police reopened the investigation into the murder of Ms Bronzich.

Sobhraj told his interrogators that he was under the impression that, like in some other countries, Nepal had a statute of limitations and that he could not be prosecuted for crimes committed more than 20 years ago.

Updated: December 22, 2022, 1:57 PM