Wednesday 10 July 2019 2:36 AM UTC
CHENNAI July 10: The Supreme Court yesterday turned down a plea by P Rajagopal, owner of the Saravana Bhavan chain of restaurants, to delay the start of a life sentence for the 2001 kidnapping and murder of an employee.
Rajagopal, 72, who arrived at the Madras High Court in an ambulance with an oxygen mask strapped to his face, had claimed he was unwell.
A bench headed by Justice NV Ramana asked, “If he was so ill, why did he not indicate illness even for one day during hearings of his appeal?”
Rajagopal had been granted bail by the Supreme Court in 2009 but had to surrender by July 7.
He moved the Supreme Court again yesterday, saying he had been hospitalised and needed more time, a request that has been denied.
In 2004, P Rajagopal was convicted in the kidnapping and murder of an employee, Santhakumar. A local court had sentenced Rajagopal and eight others involved in the murder to 10 years in prison.
Five years later the Madras High Court upheld the verdict and increased the sentence to life in prison, a punishment then upheld by the Supreme Court in March this year.
The prosecution had argued that Rajagopal plotted the murder of Santhakumar so he could marry his wife, Jeevajothi, believing that she would bring him even greater success.
The case, which has attracted considerable attention both in India and abroad, goes back to the 1990s, when Rajagopal wanted to marry Jeevajothi, the daughter of an assistant manager at Saravana Bhavan’s Chennai branch, reportedly on the advice of his astrologer.
At the time Rajagopal already had two wives and Jeevajothi, then in her twenties, had refused his proposal. She married Santakumar in 1999. The prosecution told the court Rajagopal threatened the couple in 2001 and demanded they call off the marriage.
Days after the couple went to the police, Santhakumar was kidnapped and killed. The Saravana Bhavan employee’s body was found at Perumalmalai in the Kodaikanal forests.
Saravana Bhavan, a well-known restaurant chain, has outlets in 20 countries including the US, the UK, France and Australia. There are 25 restaurants in India including in Delhi.
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