Nepal Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the release of Charles Sobhraj, a French citizen convicted of serial murders, on health grounds, AFP reported.

Sobhraj has been in a Nepal jail since 2003 for murdering two tourists from the United States of America and Canada.

On Wednesday, Nepal’s Supreme Court said that keeping the 78-year-old in prison continuously was not in line with his human rights. “If there are not any other pending cases against him to keep him in the prison, this court orders his release by today and... the return to his country within 15 days,” it said.

Sobhraj had travelled to Nepal from Hong Kong with a fake identity card, after which he was arrested by the Kathmandu Police in 2003.

In 1976, he had been charged with the murder of French citizen Jean-Luc Solomon, whom he allegedly poisoned during a robbery. He was also accused of having murdered Israeli scholar Avoni Jacob and then obtaining his passport. He was imprisoned in India for 21 years for these murders.

In all, Sobhraj had been linked to more than 20 killings in South and South East Asia.

He had briefly escaped from Tihar Jail in 1986 after giving prison guards spiked sweets, claiming that it was his birthday. He was soon caught again in Goa.

Some media reports, however, suggested that Sobhraj had intentionally escaped towards the end of his 10-year jail term so that he would be re-captured and would face fresh charges. He was said to have done this in order to avoid being extradited to Thailand, where he was wanted in five murder cases and may have faced the death penalty.

The 78-year-old has been the subject of four biographies, the Indian film Main Aur Charles and the British series The Serpent.