NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ International criminal Charles Sobhraj, wanted in three countries for befriending young couples so he could drug, rob and kill them, escaped from prison with six other convicts Sunday after drugging the warden and guards with candied fruit, police said.
Authorities declared a nationwide alert and sealed New Delhi’s borders in the manhunt.
Sobhraj, 41, a French citizen born in Vietnam, is wanted in Thailand, Nepal and Singapore for drug slayings and in Greece for a prison escape. He was being held for extradition hearings and on a lesser charge in India.
Indian authorities say Sobhraj, a karate expert with piercing black eyes, traveled Asia for years, drugging and robbing young couples. He was accused of leaving a trail of corpses in a dozen countries until he was arrested in India in 1976.
Sobhraj’s mother, a French-Vietnamese woman named Tran Van Phing, was said to have sent him from Vietnam to attend school in Paris at the age 14.
He reportedly studied psychology and law at the Sorbonne and is fluent in several languages.
Two best-selling books, ''Serpentine’’ and ''The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj,’' have been published about his exploits. As quoted in the books, Sobhraj did not deny the slayings but claimed his victims were all criminals.
Inspector Randhir Singh told The Associated Press the jailbreak occurred at about 3 p.m. in Tihar Central Jail.
Ajay Aggarwal, New Delhi vice police commissioner, said two men drove to the prison and sought the warden’s permission to distribute candied fruit and grapes on the birthday of one prisoner.
Warden S.R. Yadav granted permission, and the visitors offered sweets to him and five guards. The warden and guards passed out almost immediately and regained consciousness three or four hours later, said Aggarwal.
New Delhi Lt. Gov. H.L. Kapur ordered the suspension of the warden and guards, who were listed in stable condition in a local hospital.
Singh identified six Indians who escaped with Sobhraj as Laxmi Narayanan, Ajay Kumar, Brij Mohan, Bhola Nath, Dinesh Kumar and Bajrang Lal. No details were immediately available about the crimes with which they were charged.
Sobhraj was reported to have wielded considerable influence in the Tihar Jail. An official inquiry was ordered some years ago after newspapers reported he had corrupted wardens. The inquiry prompted the transfer of a jail superintendent.
Sobhraj spent most of his years in prison after bungling the mass drugging of a French tour group in New Delhi in 1976. He was sentenced to two years.
He later was convicted of drugging and murdering two foreign tourists in India, but the convictions were overturned on appeal.
Sobrhaj was held pending extradition requests and in a case relating to use of counterfeit travel documents. He acted as his own attorney in all Indian cases since 1981.
The government asked the Supreme Court to reverse a decision acquitting Sobhraj in the 1976 drug poisoning death of Israeli tourist Aaron Allen Jacobs in the Hindu holy city of Benares.
A Benares judge sentenced Sobhraj and his Canadian woman friend, Marie- Andree LeClerc, to life, but Allahabad High Court overturned the convictions.
The high court earlier allowed Ms. LeClerc to return to Canada because she was dying of cancer. She died in her home town of Levis, near Quebec, in April 1984.
Last September, a New Delhi magistrate ordered Sobhraj’s extradition to Thailand, where Bangkok police want him in two drug deaths, after completion of legal proceedings against him in India.
Sobhraj reportedly used dozens of aliases, frequently posing as a rich businessman or gem dealer. According to Bangkok police, he operated in Thailand under the name of Alian Gauthier.