CHENNAI / Saravana Bhavan owner arrives to court in ambulance, surrenders

The Hindu : Jul 10, 2019, 10:03 AM

After nearly 18 years since Saravana Bhavan hotel staffer Prince Santhakumar was kidnapped and murdered, the owner of the chain of hotels P. Rajagopal, the main offender in the case, surrendered in a city court on Tuesday. He was brought in an ambulance as he was not keeping well.

P. Rajagopal is 73 now. He was cited as accused number 1 in the kidnap and murder of Santhakumar, who was his employee in 2001.

When the trial court gave a lower punishment to convicts in 2004 , the State preferred an appeal before the Madras High Court. In 2009, the Madras High Court sentenced him and five others to life imprisonment. Three others were sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and two more to two years’ imprisonment.

In March, the Supreme Court confirmed the order of the Madras High Court and gave time till July 7 to the convicts for surrendering to serve prison terms.

However, Rajagopal’s last-ditch effort to skip incarceration was rejected by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Following the rejection of his plea, Rajagopal was brought in an ambulance by his staff to the city civil court complex on the Madras High Court campus.

He was wearing an oxygen mask. Another co-accused Janardhanan was also brought in another ambulance. Their advocates went to the IV Additional Sessions Court located on the third floor and sought the Judge G.Thanendran to accept the surrender of Rajagopal and other. They said since they were bed-ridden and on stretchers, they could not bring them to third floor.

But the prosecution and the Velachery inspector of police opposed this plea. They wanted the court to reject surrender petitons and to issue warrants straightaway. The inspector of police told the court that when an inspector has visited Rajagopal recently, he was sitting in a chair. After a brief argument, the Judge ordered them brought to the court.

Rajagopal was alighted from the ambulance van. Seven persons- staff carried him on the stretcher through narrow staircases to the third floor of building where the court located. When the court staff asked his name and about identification marks, he responded.

Justice Thanendran ordered the police to take the custody of duo and to be lodged in Central Prison. However Rajagopal was admitted to the Intermediate Care Unit of Government Stanley Medical College Hospital on Tuesday evening. Hospital authorities said doctors were examining him as he had complaints including cardiac ailments, hypertension and diabetes.

Background of case

According to prosecution, acting either upon the advice of an astrologer or having become besotted with Jeevajothi, wife of Prince Santhakumar, Rajagopal evinced a keen desire to take her as his third wife. In order to fulfil his desire, Rajagopal used to financially help her, her family members and her husband.

He used to talk to her over the phone frequently, and also gave her costly gifts such as jewellery and silk sarees and even went to the extent of paying her medical bills. In a further bid to gain her love and affection, he frequently interfered in her personal matters. Once when she was ill, under the pretext of better treatment as advised by another doctor, Rajagopal forcefully shifted her to another hospital, where he advised her not to have sexual relations with her husband and made her undergo a series of tests. The deceased Santhakumar was instructed to get himself tested for HIV and other such diseases, which he refused outright.

On October 18, 2001, Santhakumar and Jeevajothi were taken to Chengalpattu in a car on pretext of visiting Sai Baba Temple. At 8.30 p.m. on the same night, a Mercedes Benz belonging to Rajagopal arrived with the parents of Jeevajothi along with Rajagopal. Her mother informed her that Rajagopal wanted to leave her husband and meet him in the car. As she resisted, others forcibly took her to the car, and she was taken to Tiruchirappalli to remove the alleged influence of witchcraft (black magic) which was allegedly the cause of her being in love with Santhakumar.

Rajagopal made several failed attempts with the help of the other accused to sever the relationship between Jeevajothi and her husband. Santhakumar was kidnapped by other accused on instructions from Rajagopal.

On October 26, 2001, the couple were separated in Tirunelveli by Rajagopal’s men. Rajagopal got out of his car and grabbed Santhakumar by the collar, dragging him out. He pushed Santhakumar down and handed him over to other accused and ordered them to “finish him off”. They killed Santhakumar and threw the dead body in the forest area of Tiger Chola near Kodaikanal. The body was found on October 30 of that year and later identified by Jeevajothi.