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Twists and turns of Asia’s ‘Serpent’ serial killer

For decades Asia’s most wanted man, French serial killer Charles Sobhraj, terrorised the continent with a string of murders in the 1970s that targeted tourists.

The man nicknamed “the Serpent” was freed on health grounds from prison in Nepal on Friday.

Here is a timeline of his alleged killing spree:

– 1944: Born in Asia –

Sobhraj is born in Saigon on April 6, 1944, to an Indian father and a Vietnamese mother who later remarries a Frenchman.

In 1963, he embarks on a life as an international crook, which will take him to Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In 1970, he moves to India, where he is arrested a year later for a jewellery heist. He flees while out on bail and goes to Greece, where he also manages to escape after being arrested.

– 1975: ‘Bikini killer’ –

He arrives in Bangkok in 1975 with his Canadian girlfriend and an Indian associate.

He hangs out with tourists, passing himself off as a trader in precious stones.

In October, the body of a young woman is found on a Thai beach in Pattaya, wearing a bikini. Other victims follow, beaten, strangled or burned to death.

Sobhraj, who will become known as the “bikini killer” allegedly uses his victims’ passports for mysterious trips linked to trade in precious stones and drugs.

Under a cloud of suspicion, he flees to India.

– 1976: Arrested in India –

In July 1976, he is arrested in India after trying to drug a group of more than 20 French tourists in a New Delhi hotel.

He is also accused of the murder of another French tourist, Luc Salomon, who had been poisoned in a Mumbai hotel.

In May 1982, he is handed a life sentence by an Indian court for the 1976 murder of Israeli tourist Alan Jacob, but is acquitted on appeal a year later for lack of evidence.

He remains in prison for his other crimes.

– 1980: Thailand demands extradition –

In late 1985, India agrees to Thailand’s request to extradite Sobhraj for the murders of a Turkish tourist and a young American woman, Teresa Knowlton.

He risks the death penalty there.

He then escapes from jail in New Delhi in March 1986 by feeding drug-laced sweets to his guards.

He is recaptured three weeks later in a Goa restaurant.

But delays in the Indian legal system mean the prison-break case does not come to trial for several years, by which time Thai authorities have lost interest in having him extradited.

Accused of at least 15 murders across 10 countries, by the time he leaves Indian jails, his alleged crimes have fallen under the statute of limitations in Thailand.

Upon release, he goes to France and lives there quietly until 2003 before returning to Nepal.

– 2004: Life sentence –

Nicknamed the “Serpent” for his skill in slipping and sliding out of the judicial dragnet, Sobhraj returns to Nepal to set up a shawl export company under a false identity.

He is quickly recognised and arrested in Kathmandu for the 1975 murders of two tourists, Canadian backpacker Laurent Armand Carriere and American Connie Joe Bronzich.

He receives a life sentence in August 2004.

– 2022: Freed from prison –

On December 21, 2022, Nepal’s top court orders Sobhraj to be released from prison on health grounds.

He is freed on December 23 and put on a flight at Kathmandu airport to Doha en route to Paris, where he lands early Saturday.

While onboard his flight, he tells AFP he thinks he has been wrongly described as a serial killer.