Sobhraj claims he didn’t kill anyone: The many ways I know it’s not true

A complex narrative unfolds around Charles Sobhraj's past, filled with confessions, convictions, and contentious claims, as recounted by an acquaintance who sheds light on the enigmatic figure's life

Britain’s Channel Four TV recently ran a three-part documentary featuring an extensive interview with Charles Sobhraj in Paris with two former detectives and a psychoanalyst questioning him. Late last year Sobhraj had been released from Kathmandu jail after serving 19-years for two murders that he had committed in Nepal some 25 years before he was convicted. Throughout the three-hour documentary, Sobhraj kept protesting he never murdered a single person. The detectives weren’t convinced.

I watched the series diligently as I first met Charles Sobhraj in 1997 when he was released from Delhi’s Tihar Jail, where he had served 20 years, and approached me in this same Channel Four, where I worked as a commissioning editor at the time. He struck up an association with me and attempted to involve me in all manner of schemes. My acquaintance with him resulted in my writing two books -- one a fictionalised novel The Bikini Murders and recently a factual memoir of my interaction with

Sobhraj. This involved my roundabout introduction of him to the CIA, to (former UK Prime Minister) Boris Johnson, to an Indian minister when Sobhraj called me to claim he could intervene in the 1999 Indian Airlines hostage saga. The memoir titled Hawk and Hyena includes incidents such as his attempting to involve me in arms deals that he was doing with terrorist groups.

Sobhraj’s claims of innocence rely on the fact that, though he was imprisoned pending trial for perhaps eleven of these murders in Thailand, he was never tried in a court of law or convicted as he bribed his way out of detention and escaped before the trials which would have inevitably resulted in his execution. Innocent until proved guilty? Or guilty, and so on the run?

And the Nepal “life” convictions? Why did he venture to Kathmandu when he knew he was wanted for two murders there? In Hawk and Hyena, I feel sure I have explained his confident and yet culpable venture. I even admit to being peripherally involved in his nonchalance. He felt he could venture there with immunity, was “betrayed” and convicted of both murders on flimsy evidence -- the memories of policemen 25 years earlier -- which in my non-legal, humble opinion would not stand up in, say, a UK court.

So, no convictions in Thailand as he was ever tried and unconvincing convictions in the Nepalese courts.

Is Sobhraj entitled to claim he never killed anyone? Innocent until proved guilty by an acceptably reliable process of law?

No, he isn’t. Let me count the ways?

From 1977 Sobhraj was in Tihar Jail for poisoning a group of French tourists, intending to rob them.

The journalists Richard Neville and Julie Clarke interviewed him and recorded in Shadow of the Cobra his confessions to eleven murders in Thailand which, he much later, retracted.

Escaping through bribery from a Thai jail, he arrived in India with his girlfriend and was subsequently arrested for poisoning a group of French tourists. He discovered that if he spent 20 years in jail in India, the statute of limitations in Thai law would erase his murder conviction. He connived to do exactly that.

In Delhi, he was to serve 12 years on the poisoning charge. He needed eight more. He contrived to get these by staging an escape, staging a re-capture and being sentenced for jailbreak. At the time the Indian press -- and even a stupid Bollywood film -- bought his story of drugging the jail warders with sleeping pills concealed in Indian sweets and escaping while they all dozed off. The story was bovine excreta as he confessed to me. The truth was he heavily bribed the gate-keeper warders of Tihar, who used the sleeping pill device to escape being disciplined for letting him out.

After a two-week holiday in Goa, he summoned a police accomplice to Goa to fortuitously “recognise” and arrest him. I recall his boasts about fooling the Indian media in Hawk and Hyena.

Sobhraj never confessed to a single murder during our acquaintance. Once he remarked when we discussed a corpse found in a hotel room: “That fellow deserved to die! He was a drug addict.”

I think I asked: “So that entitled you to kill him with an overdose?”

The most revealing slip of the tongue occurred when Sobhraj wanted a film written about his exploits. “Faa-ook, I give you carte blanche, write what you like...”

I asked my friend Shekhar Kapur if he was interested. He was. He asked if he could meet Sobhraj and proposed inviting him to his house in London. I said that was not a good idea and we called him instead to a picnic in summery Holland Park.

The film synopsis I wrote, to attract financial sponsors, began with: “There is a serial killer on the loose. Charles Sobhraj has murdered perhaps 52 victims….”

Charles came with his then girlfriend to Holland Park. Shekhar brought my two-page synopsis with him and Sobhraj asked if he could see it.

I said he must remember that he gave me “carte blanche” to write what would sell. Sobhraj agreed that was the deal and he wouldn’t say anything. But when he was handed the proposal and read it, he said: “Faa-ook, where you get this 52? That’s an exaggeration, isn’t it?”

Was that an admission? Should it have been 51? 37? Just 13? Was “exaggeration” the unwitting word that gave the game away?

Sobhraj now threatens to sue every documentary, TV serial, drama series and book that portrays him as a serial killer. He has threatened to sue Netflix, the BBC, Channel Four and others, including myself. I think Netflix and the others have said: “Bring it on… see you in court”.

Yes, we are all Spartacus.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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