French serial killer Charles Sobhraj, who committed a string of murders across Asia in the 1970s and was portrayed in the Netflix series "The Serpent", was expected to walk free from prison in Nepal on Thursday.
Nepal's top court ruled Wednesday that Sobhraj, 78, who has been in jail in the Himalayan republic since 2003 for two killings in the 1970s, should be released early on health grounds.
Prison officials told AFP they would hand Sobhraj over to immigration authorities after receiving the relevant court papers. The court ordered that he be deported within 15 days.
Sobhraj needed open heart surgery in 2017 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.
A French citizen of Vietnamese and Indian parentage, Sobhraj began travelling the world in the early 1970s and wound up in the Thai capital Bangkok.
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.
"He despised backpackers, he saw them as poor young drug addicts," Australian journalist Julie Clarke, who interviewed Sobhraj, told AFP in 2021.
"He considered himself a criminal hero."
Suave and sophisticated, he was implicated in his first murder, that of a young American woman whose body was found on a beach wearing a bikini, in 1975.
Nicknamed the "bikini killer", he was eventually linked to more than 20 murders.
Sobhraj's other sobriquet, "The Serpent", came from his ability to assume other identities to evade justice.
It became the title of last year's hit series by the BBC and Netflix that was based on his life.
- 'Swindler, seducer, robber' -
He was arrested in India in 1976 and ultimately spent 21 years in jail there, with a brief break in 1986 when he escaped and was caught again in the Indian coastal state of Goa.
Released in 1997, Sobhraj lived in Paris, giving paid interviews to journalists, but went back to Nepal in 2003.
He was soon spotted in Kathmandu's tourist district and arrested in a casino.
A court there handed him 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.
Behind bars, Sobhraj maintained that he was innocent of both murders and claimed he had never been to Nepal before the trip that resulted in his arrest.
"I really didn't do it, and I think I will be out," he told AFP in 2007 during an interview at Kathmandu's Central Jail.
Nadine Gires, a Frenchwoman who lived in the same Bangkok apartment block as Sobhraj, told AFP last year that she found him a "cultured" and impressive character at first.
But ultimately, "he was not only a swindler, a seducer, a robber of tourists, but an evil murderer", she said.
Thai police officer Sompol Suthimai, whose work with Interpol was instrumental in securing the arrest of Sobhraj in 1976, had pushed him to be extradited to Thailand and tried for the murders he committed there.
But on Thursday he told AFP that 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 Suthimai, 90. "I think he has already paid for his actions."
© Agence France-Presse
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