The apex court Friday asked the convicts, including Rajagopal, to surrender by July 7 to serve the jail terms.
From a provision store owner to a successful business magnate, and the restaurateur behind the popular Saravana Bhavan group of hotels, the rise and rise of P Rajagopal was spectacular. So, too, his fall. On Friday, the Supreme Court upheld the life term awarded to Rajagopal — and eight others — for the murder of his employee 18 years ago. The bench comprising Justices NV Ramana and MM Shantanagoudar dismissed eight appeals filed by the convicts challenging the 2009 verdict of the Madras High Court in the case.
Ten years ago, the High Court had enhanced to life imprisonment the 10-year jail term awarded by a local court in Chennai to Rajagopal and the others. The apex court Friday asked the convicts, including Rajagopal, to surrender by July 7 to serve the jail terms.
The case dates back to 2001 when Rajagopal was accused of threatening, abducting and murdering Prince Shantakumar, so that he could marry his wife. Incidentally, Rajagopal already had two wives by then — his second marriage was to a woman who was the wife of a former employee.
According to the prosecution, Rajagopal wanted Jeevajothi, daughter of former assistant manager Ramasamy who left for Malaysia some years ago, to become his third wife. But Jeevajothi objected. In 1999, she married Shantakumar, a former tuition teacher who had joined the eatery chain. But Rajagopal threatened the couple to sever the marriage to pave way for his marriage with Jeevajothi.
However, the couple resisted his advances and refused to heed to his threats even after they were abducted by his gang. They filed a case with the local police station regarding their abduction and intimidation on October 1, 2001. A few weeks later, Shanthakumar was kidnapped from Chennai and taken to Kodaikanal where he was murdered the same day.
After her husband went missing, Jeevajothi approached local police with a complaint against Rajagopal. Shanthakumar’s body was found by Forest Department officials from inside the Tiger Chola forests in Kodaikanal on October 3 that year. According to postmortem reports, he had been strangulated. When the case hit the local headlines, Rajagopal, named as the main accused, surrendered on November 23, 2001, but was soon released on bail.
But on July 15, 2003, he got embroiled in another controversy, this time for attempting to bribe Jeevajothi with `6 lakh, intimidating her and assaulting her brother Ramkumar after the family refused to succumb to his might
When neighbours surrounded Jeevajothi’s house in Thethakudi village of Nagapattinam district after hearing the commotion, Rajagopal and others managed to escape. But his legal adviser was left behind and was caught by the villagers.
The Poonamallee Additional Sessions Court awarded 10 years RI to Rajagopal after convicting him for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, apart from imposing a fine of Rs 55 lakh, including Rs 50 lakh as compensation to Jeevajothi.
But March 2008, a Division Bench of the High Court allowed the appeal against this verdict, observing that the trial court had erred in not awarding sentences under Section 302 of the IPC (murder) to Rajagopal and others as this was a grave crime with a clear intention. Besides the hotelier, the other accused include his associates, Daniel, Karmegan, Hussain, Kasi Viswanathan and Patturangan, and Tamilselvan, Muruganandam and Sethu.