Sun, Sep 21, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Confessed killer denies murders of two backpackers

AP , KATMANDU, NEPAL

The confessed killer known as "the Serpent," accused of murdering dozens of tourists across Asia, yesterday denied involvement in the deaths of two young women in 1975 in Nepal.

Charles Sobhraj was picked up on Friday at a casino in Katmandu and questioned about the unsolved murders of an American and a Canadian backpacker whose charred bodies were found on the city's outskirts.

Police say Sobhraj, 59, came to Nepal in 1975 on a Dutch passport under the alias Henricus Bintanja and now has a French passport with the name Charles Sobhraj Gurmukh.

Sobhraj yesterday denied involvement in the killings, insisting during questioning that this was his first trip to the Himalayan country, police official Ganesh Chetri said.

He was expected to appear in court tomorrow.

Sobhraj, who earned his nickname for his talent at disguise and escape, is suspected of killing at least 20 people in India, Thailand, Afghanistan, Turkey, Nepal, Iran and Hong Kong between 1972 and 1982.

Police said they began searching for Sobhraj after a newspaper published photographs on Wednesday of the alleged serial killer getting on a motorcycle in Nepal's capital.

The Himalayan Times said Sobhraj had been living at a hotel in Katmandu's tourist district for two weeks, trying to establish a pashmina shawl business.

After serving 21 years in prison in India for theft, Sobhraj was deported in 1997 to France, where he was investigated for allegedly trying to poison a group of French tourists in India.

He was born in Vietnam during French rule and claims French citizenship.

Sobhraj has admitted to killing young Western tourists. When he was released from the Indian prison, he said he regretted aspects of his past.

French actor-producer Yves Renier said Sobhraj lived in central Paris for three years after being freed from prison in India.

Renier said he started negotiating with Sobhraj about making a film based on a book about him. He said he saw Sobhraj "about 30 times" in Paris between 1997 and 2000.

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