In 2003, there were nearly 190 countries in the world. Charles Sobhraj was free and living a happy life in France. Only one country in the world had active cases of murder against him—Nepal. And yet it was Nepal that Charles decided to visit, again. Why on earth did he come to Nepal, only to find himself behind bars?
My question remained unanswered. The many conversations I had had with Charles hadn’t answered the question that disturbed and rattled me. Ganesh K.C., the police officer who had caught Charles in Nepal, had boasted to the media, ‘He is kept under special security arrangements in prison. He may have escaped from Tihar in India, but he cannot elude us. Charles Sobhraj made a huge mistake in returning to Nepal.’
Whenever I read that statement or thought about it, the question in my head only became bigger. It was a puzzle I had to solve at any cost. ‘So, Alain, tell me the motive behind your last visit to Nepal.’ I was sitting on a cosy chair in my dream, facing one of the most notorious killers the world has known.
‘This is my first and only visit here,’ he answered calmly. He could probably repeat this sentence in his sleep; he had said it so often. ‘Okay! Tell me the reason behind your first visit then. We both know it was not for the pashmina or the mineral water.’ The spot boy jiggled with the lights noisily; he was probably trying to make me look less dark and rugged when compared to our fair-skinned, handsome guest.
‘I was here for two different things. One, I wanted to organise an undercover business meeting of some guys from the Taliban with a Chinese heroin producer in the Golden Triads. And second one was a meeting with top brass from India.’
‘Well, he is a Burmese citizen of Chinese descent. We became friends when I was in Thailand. I lost touch with him when I left Bangkok, but somehow managed to track him down.’
‘Do you have close ties with the Taliban?’
‘Do you know Masood?’
‘You mean the Islamist terrorist who was with you in Tihar?’ ‘Yes. He introduced me to all the Taliban leaders. That’s actually why I visited Afghanistan several times.’
I winced. I had seen some photographs of him in Afghanistan. He had supposedly been there for a humanitarian mission. Humanitarian, my foot!
‘I had good relations with the Taliban and the al-Qaeda.
You know, I even had a nuclear deal with Saddam Hussein.’ His revelations got more chilling by the minute. They also started sounding ludicrous.
‘Yes. I had a business contract to supply red mercury to Iraq and had already made a deal with a Russian group. But then, 2003 happened.’ For the life of me, I could not decipher if he referred to the 2003 attack on Iraq by the USA or his 2003 arrest in Nepal. Probably both? But in either case, had the incidents of 2003 unfolded differently, he would have probably been supplying red mercury to Saddam Hussein. The latter would have probably used it in a nuclear missile smuggled from the Russian military. I didn’t want to imagine what might have happened next.
Our conversation was becoming too long for a half-an-hour television programme. Even with tight editing, it would easily make for two episodes. But I didn’t mind. The TRPs were likely to be excellent, and the management could even push it to three episodes. My guest was in a particularly talkative mood, and I was not foolish to stop him.
He went on. ‘One day in early September, I was driving to Marseille when I got a call from Reik. He said it was an emergency. The man was frantically screaming about the 9/11 attack. You know, the al-Qaeda had done exactly what I had warned the CIA about.’
I stared at the serial killer sitting in front of me, occasionally sipping from his cup of coffee. This murderer, this con man, claimed to know about the 9/11 before it happened. He had supposedly known in advance about that unprecedented attack on the World Trade Center, one of the most gruesome events witnessed by the world.
‘America vowed to finish off the terrorists, of course. You know, America had always had good relations with the Taliban. It was well known that the CIA had sponsored the Mujahideen to fight against Russian invasion in Afghanistan. Later, a fraction of those who had been in the Mujahideen converted to Taliban. And Taliban had good ties with the al-Qaeda, the numero uno foe of the USA.’
“This murderer, this con man, claimed to know about the 9/11 before it happened,” said Raamesh Koirala
He paused for breath before continuing to share his insights on the role of the USA in the formation of the Taliban.
‘What happened then?’
‘As the USA helped them grow, they always had infiltration from the al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In fact, now, they had their sources in the ISIS. But after the 9/11 attack, all the strings between the CIA and the al-Qaeda were broken. It was then that they contacted me. They knew I wanted to help every country I could when it came to fighting against terrorism. I hate how terrorists kill innocent people. I hate killing people.’
Of course, you hate killing people, I thought. It pains you and makes you cry whenever you strangle and stab people, burning them alive and walking away amidst their harrowing screams. ‘So, how did you help now?’ I somehow forced myself to stick to the questions in the script.
‘After the US strike on Afghanistan, the al-Qaeda and the Taliban stopped using electronic devices for communication. The US intelligence agencies were finding it difficult to trace their moves. As the CIA already knew about my good relations with the top dogs in the Taliban, they contacted me immediately to strike a deal. They wanted me to gain the faith of the Taliban, infiltrate into their systems and share any information I could gather with the USA.’
‘Then, what was your plan?’ I cursed myself for not being well-informed about Islamic jihadists. But truth be told, I had not expected my interview with a French serial killer to take this turn. I wondered if my nervousness was palpable on the screen. My sweat sure was, and I signalled a crew member to lower the temperature settings of the air conditioner.
‘Well, I found that the best trap was opium. Afghanistan was the leading producer of opium, and almost the entire trade was governed by the Taliban. They had been struggling for the last few years because the CIA had got wind of the opium trade and started surveillance on their route. If they found someone who could help them with this, someone who could rev up the trade again, it would be a great foundation for a relationship. I shared my plan with the CIA.’
‘Then?’ I sounded dumb even to myself, asking monosyllabic questions for quite a long time now.
‘Then, well, they accepted my plan and funded my tours. My goal was to provide an excellent business deal to the Taliban, something they couldn’t refuse. I mean, imagine their angst— the biggest producers of opium, controlling nearly 90% of the world trade, but stuck without a place to sell!’
I let him continue.
‘It took me almost two years to convince the Taliban for a long-term deal. I was sure that a factory in Burma or Thailand would be the right choice; I knew these things. But thirty years is a rather long time; I had lost contact.’
I suspected he was now talking about the Golden Triads. Old movies I had seen flashed in front of my eyes. There was the Hindi movie, Drishyam, where the protagonist, Vijay Salgaonkar, was a movie freak. His exposure to all these films—a good number of them thrillers and crime movies—helped him fool the police when he was trying to save his wife and daughter from a murder charge. Then there was the Hollywood movie, The Usual Suspects, where a character—Dean Keaton—would cook up different stories from the notice boards he had seen at police stations. It wasn’t all that difficult to fool people, not even the police, especially when you have the gift of the gab, the right information, and the courage to implement this information.
Here, in my TV show, I was witness to a live demonstration of this hoodwinking.
‘I went hunting for them,’ Alain went on, evidently enjoying the tale. ‘It wasn’t easy. Again, it took me nearly two years to contact them and finalise a deal for the profitable supply of raw material for heroin.’
I was swiftly losing interest in this heroin talk, obviously fabricated. ‘Okay, let’s talk about your second meeting. What was that Indian top brass about?’
‘Oh, it was a meeting with the IB,’ he said, as casually as if he was meeting friends for brunch.
‘I helped them from time by time. It was me who facilitated the return of that hijacked Indian Airlines plane from Kandahar.’ The reveals were now mounting one on top of the other. It was happening so swiftly that I felt as if Alain was the host and I was merely a spot boy whose sole responsibility was to ensure the air conditioner operated at full blast.
‘Can you imagine,’ Alain continued with a smug look, ‘Advani escaped an assassination due to my tip?’