French serial killer Charles Sobhraj, responsible for several killings in the 1970s across Asia, arrived in France on Saturday after nearly 20 years in prison in Nepal.
Nepal’s top court ruled on Wednesday that he should be released on health grounds and deported to France within 15 days.
He was released on Friday and put on a plane at Kathmandu airport bound for Paris via Doha. On the flight to Doha, he protested to an AFP journalist that he was “innocent”.
Sobhraj’s life was chronicled in the Netflix and BBC co-produced series The Serpent.
Posing as a gem dealer, he befriended his victims, many of them western backpackers on the hippie trails of the 1970s, before drugging, robbing and murdering them.
“I feel great … I have a lot to do. I have a lot of people to sue. Including the state of Nepal,” Sobhraj told AFP on board the plane on Friday.
When asked if he thought he’d been mislabeled as a serial killer, the 78-year-old said, “Yes, yes.”
He landed in the French capital on Saturday morning, an AFP reporter confirmed.
Upon arrival in Paris, he was taken by border police for additional “staff checks,” according to an airport source.
The airport source said he was “not wanted” by authorities in France and would be able to leave the airport once all checks were in place.
Sobhraj was born in Saigon to an Indian father and a Vietnamese mother who later married a Frenchman. Sobhraj started an international life of crime, ending up in Thailand in 1975.
Polite and cunning, he was implicated in the murder of a young American woman whose body was found on a beach in a bikini.
Sobhraj, nicknamed the “bikini killer,” was eventually linked to more than 20 murders.
Arrested in India in 1976, he eventually served 21 years in prison, with a brief break in 1986 when he drugged prison guards and escaped. He was recaptured in the Indian coastal state of Goa.
Sobhraj was released in 1997 and lived in Paris, where he gave paid interviews to journalists, but returned to Nepal in 2003.
He was spotted playing baccarat in a casino and arrested by journalist Joseph Nathan, one of the founders of the Himalayan Times newspaper.
“He looked harmless … It was pure luck that I recognized him,” Nathan told AFP on Thursday.
“I think it was karma.”
A court in Nepal handed Sobhraj 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.
Speaking to AFP among confused fellow Qatar Airways passengers on Friday, Sobhraj insisted he was innocent of the killings in Nepal.
“The courts in Nepal, from the District Court to the Supreme Court to the Supreme Court, all the judges, they were biased against Charles Sobhraj,” he said.
“I’m innocent in these cases, okay? So I don’t have to feel bad or good about it. I am innocent. It was built on fake documents,” he added.
Thai police officer Sompol Suthimai – whose collaboration with Interpol was instrumental in the 1976 arrest – had pushed for Sobhraj to be extradited to Thailand and charged with murder.
But on Thursday, Sompol told AFP he had no objection to the release because both he and the criminal he once pursued are now too old.
“I don’t have feelings for him now that it’s been so long,” said Sompol, 90.
“I think he has already paid for his actions.”