Saravana Bhavan founder gets life for murdering employee (Lead)

March 19th, 2009 - 5:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Chennai, March 19 (IANS) Founder of the Saravana Bhavan hotel chain P. Rajagopal was Thursday sentenced to life for murdering his employee eight years ago by the Madras High Court that enhanced his 10-year rigorous imprisonment awarded by a trial court.
The verdict was announced by a division bench comprising Justices P.K. Mishra and R. Banumathi, who convicted Rajagopal and six others for the 2001 murder. The court also increased his conviction from culpable homicide not amounting to murder, to culpable homicide amounting to murder.

Rajagopal, 59, who had founded the Saravana Bhavan chain of hotels worldwide in 1981, had been found guilty of murdering an employee Prince Shantakumar in 2001. A fast track court had in 2004 sentenced him to 10 years rigorous imprisonment and fined him Rs.5.5 million.

Rajagopal’s counsel Appu Kutty said his client would appeal in the Supreme Court against the Madras High Court verdict.

“Our appeal will be filed in the Supreme Court shortly against today’s (Thursday) verdict. Since the high court reduced the stiff fine imposed by the trial court from Rs.55 lakh (Rs.5.5 million) to Rs.15,000, we are confident of further relief from the apex court,” Kutty told IANS.

The prosecution responded by saying it would fight till the bitter end.

“We will fight the appeal in the Supreme Court and will argue for a stiffer sentence for the heinous crime that has been proved beyond doubt as expressed by the bench today,” said N. Balasubramanian.

Rajagopal had also been accused of sexually harassing Shantakumar’s widow, Jeevajothi, and the daughter of another employee Ramaswamy.

Of the fine, Rs.5 million was to be handed over to Jeevajothi, the court had ruled.

Rajagopal, who was rearrested for violating bail conditions during his trial after allegedly attempting to threaten Jeevajothi, had appealed to the high court.

The Saravana Bhavan chain of hotels and restaurants, popular for their range of idlis, dosas and the like, gained further notoriety in November 2008 after Rajagopal’s son P. Shiva Kumar was arrested on a charge of forging documents to smuggle people into the US.

The charges were based on the findings of the US consulate. The arrest also resulted in the cancellation of several lucrative contracts of the hotel chain to supply food to American diplomatic missions.

According to the hotel group’s website, its outlets are located “across 22 outlets in South India, three in the North and seven countries with 22 outlets across the globe”.

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