French serial killer Charles Sobhraj, 78, who police say was responsible for a string of murders in the 1970s and 80s, was released from prison in Nepal after 19 years behind bars.

On Friday, he was driven out of the prison in the capital, Kathmandu, in a blue police vehicle and taken to immigration detention and then to Kathmandu airport.

He was to be deported to France, his lawyer told reporters, where he was expected to arrive early on Saturday.

Sobhraj has been barred from returning to Nepal for 10 years, the Reuters news agency reported citing immigration officials.

Sobhraj is suspected of murdering more than 20 backpackers who were travelling along the “hippie trail” in Asia,

including six women in Thailand, some of who turned up dead on a beach near the resort of Pattaya. His true number of victims, spanning decades and several countries, is unknown.

Posing as a gem trader, he would befriend his victims before drugging, robbing and murdering them. His 2004 conviction in Nepal was the first time he was found guilty in court.