A Nepalese court has ordered the release of the French killer Charles Sobhraj, cutting short the life sentence he had been serving for the murder of an American tourist.
The police believed that Mr. Sobhraj killed as many as 20 people in the 1970s and ’80s, though he was convicted in only three killings. He was suspected of targeting Western backpackers traveling the “Hippie Trail,” an overland route that ran between Europe and Asia and attracted young adult travelers.
Known as “the Serpent” for his ability to evade detection and capture by the authorities, Mr. Sobhraj has been the subject of several dramatizations, including one Netflix series. He elevated his notoriety by fostering relationships with journalists, to whom he would tell outrageous stories about his crimes.
He was to be released from a high-security prison in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, on Thursday, handed over to immigration authorities and repatriated to France, his lawyer, Gopal Siwakoti, said in an interview.
Mr. Sobhraj would like to remain in Nepal for at least a week before being repatriated, Mr. Siwakoti said, to undergo a medical checkup for a heart condition and because “a few teams of documentary makers are coming from Paris.”
“Being a celebrity, he has his own circle of friends,” Mr. Siwakoti added.
Mr. Sobhraj, 78, was released under a provision in Nepalese law that allows older prisoners to be freed after serving 75 percent of their sentence if they have exhibited good behavior in jail or require medical treatment.
He had petitioned the court multiple times for an early release and produced documents supporting his claim that he required open-heart surgery, according to the court order.
Nepal’s Supreme Court granted his petition on medical grounds, declaring on Wednesday that keeping him behind bars was “not in line with the prisoner’s human rights,” and ordered him to be repatriated within 15 days.
Mr. Sobhraj was accused of killing tourists in Thailand, India and Nepal.Thailand issued a warrant for his arrest in connection with the drugging and killings of six women, but he was never extradited to the country.
In 2003, Mr. Sobhraj was arrested in Nepal for the 1975 murder of Connie Jo Bronzich, an American woman. The following year, he was convicted and given a 20-year sentence — then considered for life — that was set to expire in October 2023. In 2014, he was convicted of the murder of Ms. Bronzich’s friend, a Canadian man named Laurent Carrière.
Mr. Sobhraj was arrested in India in 1976 for the poisoning and killing of a French tourist, Jean-Luc Solomon, and spent 20 years in the Tihar Prisons, in New Delhi.
He lived in the prison’s “luxury wing,” bribing guards with gemstones and money so that he could live apart from the other prisoners. He also had a television, refrigerator and computer in his cell, according to the British writer Farrukh Dhondy, who maintained a decades-long relationship with Mr. Sobhraj and later wrote a book about him.
Mr. Sobhraj briefly escaped from Tihar and was recaptured shortly thereafter while dining in Goa, on the coast of western India. Newspapers reported at the time that he escaped the maximum-security prison by drugging his guards with a spiked birthday cake.
After his release from prison in India, he returned to France for several years. In 2003, he visited Nepal despite an outstanding warrant for his arrest there. He was spotted by a journalist and subsequently arrested while gambling at a casino.