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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 August, 2004, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
The 'bikini-killer' linked to murders throughout Asia
Charles Sobhraj
Sobhraj allegedly confessed his crimes to an Australian author
Charles Sobhraj has a reputation as Asia's premier serial killer.

Yet, until Thursday, he had never been convicted for murder, even though he has been accused of more than 20 killings in India, Thailand, Nepal, Turkey and Iran.

His knack for deceptive disguises, coupled with his tendency to target young women earned him the nickname, "The Serpent," or the "Bikini Killer."

Sobhraj, 60, is also believed to have escaped from prisons in Afghanistan, Greece, Iran and India.

So extraordinary has been his life of crime that after being released from jail in India - where he served a 20 year sentence for poisoning a busload of French tourists - the film and book rights were reportedly sold to a French actor-producer for $15m.

The deal strengthened perceptions among his critics that he has never been properly brought to book for his crimes.

Terrifying prediction

Throughout his criminal career, Sobhraj either escaped from jail or bribed the authorities to treat him preferentially while in prison.

Charles Sobhraj was born in Japanese occupied Saigon in April 1944 to an unwed Vietnamese shop girl and an India merchant who denied paternity. His birthplace made him eligible for French citizenship.

Charles Sobhraj during deportation from India 1997
India deported Sobhraj in 1997 after he had spent 21 years in jail

Rejection by his father was an act which caused considerable resentment and bitterness in the young Sobhraj: "I will make you regret that you have missed your father's duty," he confided in his diary.

It was a prediction that would become terrifyingly true.

The subject of at least two in-depth biographies as one of the world's most notorious alleged serial killers, alongside Jeffrey Dahmer and Harold Shipman, Sobhraj is said to have begun his life of crime by travelling around Asia in 1963.

Audacious escape

His tactic, say his critics, was always the same. To take advantage of the nascent global drug culture to befriend young French or English-speaking tourists and then to murder them.

Between 1972 to 1982, Sobhraj has been implicated in more than 20 killings in which the victims were drugged, strangled, beaten or burned.

His capacity for violence, critics say, is matched only by his ability to escape from prison.

In 1971, he escaped from jail in India by feigning appendicitis and making his getaway from hospital.

He was re-arrested in 1976, but 10 years later made an even more audacious escape: this time by throwing a birthday party in which guards and prisoners alike were invited.

Grapes and biscuits handed around the guests were secretly injected with sleeping pills, knocking out everyone except Sobhraj and four other escapees.

Indian newspapers reported that they were so haughty about their getaway that they even photographed themselves walking through the prison gates onto the Delhi streets.

As long as I can talk to people, I can manipulate them
Charles Sobhraj speaking in Richard Neville's biography

As a fugitive, Sobhraj is reported to have behaved more like a holidaying student than a desperate prisoner prepared to stop at nothing to evade justice. He openly drank in bars and showed off an Italian made pistol to fellow drinkers.

Needless to say, it was not long before he was re-arrested. But, it is alleged, there was a method in his madness.

Critics say that he deliberately escaped towards the end of his 10 year jail term in order to be re-captured and face new charges for his escape.

That way he could avoid extradition to Thailand where he was wanted for five murders and would almost certainly be given the death penalty.

By the time of his release in 1997, the 20 year time-frame for him to be tried in Bangkok had lapsed.

But the authorities caught up with him again several years later.

In 2003, he was arrested in a Kathmandu casino for allegedly travelling on a false passport and for murders of an a Canadian man and an American woman which he allegedly carried out 28 years ago.

As in the other cases registered against him, Sobhraj denied the charges.

But this time, police said they had a "suitcase full" of evidence against him.

And the judge agreed, despite Sobhraj's appeal that he had been convicted without proof or witnesses.

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