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Charles Sobhraj deported to France, held on arrival

Charles Sobhraj arrived at the Charles De Gaulle airport in France, but was not immediately allowed to leave.

Journalists were still waiting two hours after he landed, but a dozen French policemen stationed outside the customs area suddenly left.

"I'm waiting, just as you are," said his lawyer, Jacques Verges, who has also represented the Nazi Klaus Barbie. "I am persuaded they will be forced to free him."

Sobhraj, who allegedly murdered 14 tourists in Thailand, left New Delhi in the early hours of Tuesday abroad an Air France aircraft for Paris, accompanied by two officials of the Foreigners Regional Registration Office. Indian authorities had order his expulsion from the country on February 24.

The notorious criminal left India, a couple of days after he turned 53, after spending more than twenty years in the maximum security Tihar jail in New Delhi.

Sobhraj, born in Vietnam under French rule to a Vietnamese mother and a Sindhi father, had been cleared in all nine cases including a murder charge and a prison break from Tihar jail in 1986.

The transit documents, which had delayed his deportation, were handed over by the French embassy to the FRRO. France had said they would accept him provided he set foot on their territory before April 8.

After his release on bail on February 17, he was once again taken into custody by the FRRO which feared he might go underground.

Sobhraj committed his first crime when he was just 16 years old, with a robbery in France in 1960. He followed it up with another which landed him in Marseilles prison from where he managed to escape in 1969 and left for India.

He was finally arrested after a jewellery heist in the Ashoka hotel in New Delhi in 1971 but gave the police the slip at Willingdon hospital after asking his wife to keep the guards engaged playing cards with her.

He fled to Kabul in December 1971 where he stayed in the Intercontinental hotel for quite some time before leaving for Pakistan without paying his bills. In Rawalpindi, he got himself a car in 1973 by drugging a driver to death.

Sobhraj, by then a master cheat, left for Thailand where he killed six women in 1975 after robbing them of their valuables and disposed their bodies in the sea.

In March 1976, when his house in Thailand was being raided, Sobhraj walked out claiming to be someone who he had murdered a month before.

From Bangkok, he came back to India and was charged in 1978 with murdering a French tourist and an Israeli tourist in Varanasi. Months before his scheduled release from the high security Tihar jail in March 1986, he drugged the guards with sweets and escaped.

He was re-arrested in Goa after 24 days, by Bombay policeman Madhukar Zende. But the jailbreak brought more charges against him, and prevented him from being deported to Thailand, where he would have been executed on murder charges.

Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Prem Kumar ordered that Sobhraj be released on February 17 after the criminal furnished a personal bond. The government subsequently decided to drop all cases against him to enable his deportation to France.

Sobhraj claimed he was a French citizen because he was born under French rule in Vietnam.

Last Friday, the French embassy in New Delhi issued Sobhraj a travel permit to come to France after weeks of wrangling over his status, during which he was stranded at a police station.

"For seven weeks they wouldn't give him papers," Verges said at De Gaulle airport. "Now they'll lose face a second time and be forced to free him."

Sobhraj's return follows the murders of four French teenage girls earlier this year by two men who already served prison terms for rape and murder, stirring some calls for restoration of the death penalty.

French officials have not said whether they plan to prosecute Sobhraj.

Related Link:
The making of a killer

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