French ‘bikini killer’ to have heart surgery in Nepal

KATHMANDU, (AFP): A notorious French criminal who earned the nickname “bikini killer” for a string of murders throughout Asia in the 1970s, was in a Nepali hospital Friday, where he is expected to undergo open heart surgery, sources said.

Charles Sobhraj, 73, who is currently serving a life sentence, was taken to hospital for tests, his lawyer and mother-in-law Sakuntala Thapa told AFP.

The ageing conman has been implicated in more than 20 killings, earning worldwide notoriety for a series of poisonings and robberies of backpackers across Asia in the 60s and 70s.

He needs to have one of the valves in his heart replaced, said Jyotendra Sharma, director of Sahid Gangalal National Heart Centre, where the surgery will take place.

Senior police officer Janak Bahadur Shahi told AFP that Sobhraj will remain in hospital until after the surgery, which other sources said is expected to take place next week.

“Sobhraj has been admitted to the hospital for the surgery. The date for the operation is yet to be fixed,” said Shahi.

Sobhraj was taken to hospital in late May after suffering a heart attack and was diagnosed with a weak valve that needed to be corrected through surgery.

His lawyer said that Sobhraj wanted to return to France for the surgery — a plea that he also made in a rare telephone interview with the Indian Express newspaper earlier this week.

But prison doctor Kedar Narshingh KC said he thought Sobhraj, who also earned the sobriquet “The Serpent” for his repeated identity thefts and escapes from justice, was angling to get released from jail early.

“He is spreading rumours despite our intensive care and treatment. It is suspicious and could be a ploy to get released from the jail,” said the doctor.

– Murder and robberies –

The French embassy in Kathmandu told AFP there were “no ongoing discussions regarding the transfer of Sobhraj to France” for treatment or to serve the remainder of his sentence.

Sobhraj — a French citizen of Vietnamese and Indian parentage — was sentenced by a Nepal court in 2004 for the killing of US tourist Connie Joe Bronzich in 1975.

It was the first time he had been convicted of murder, despite being linked to a string of killings. Two of his victims were found wearing only bikinis.

The law first caught up with him in India in 1976, when he was jailed for culpable homicide — a lesser charge than murder — for poisoning a French tourist and killing an Israeli man.

He spent 21 years in jail in India’s capital with a brief 22-day break in 1986 when he escaped by reportedly offering the guards cakes, cookies and grapes laced with sleeping pills.

Sobhraj claimed that the jailbreak was a well-crafted plan to avoid extradition to Thailand where he would have faced the death penalty for the murder of an American woman in the mid-seventies.

India’s snail-paced judiciary took years to begin prosecution against him for jailbreak and in 1995 the extradition warrant from Thailand expired. He was finally released in 1997.

In 2014, he was handed a second life sentence in Nepal for the killing of Canadian backpacker Laurent Carriere.

While in jail in Nepal, Sobhraj married his lawyer’s daughter, Nihita Biswas, who is 22 years his junior.

Biswas has herself courted notoriety, appearing in India’s hugely popular reality television show “Bigg Boss” — a spin off of the global “Big Brother” franchise — in 2011.

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