Chennai: Founder of popular South Indian food chain 'Saravana Bhavan' P Rajagopal surrendered before a sessions court here on Tuesday to serve a life term in a decades-old murder case hours after the Supreme Court rejected his plea seeking more time.
Dressed in his trademark white shirt dhoti and a sandalwood-vermillion mark on his forehead, an ‘ailing’ Rajagopal was brought to the premises of the Fourth Additional Sessions Court in an ambulance. Separately, another convict Janardhanan was also brought to the court in an ambulance.
Following submissions of the counsel for the convicts in connection with the surrender, both of them are expected to be shifted to the Puzhal Central Prison here.
Earlier in the day, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice NV Ramana dismissed the plea of 72-year-old Rajagopal seeking more time on medical grounds to surrender, saying his illness was not raised before the court during the hearing of the appeal in the case.
Rajagopal was admitted in KM Hospital in KK Nagar in Chennai on July 4. He was supposed to surrender on July 7 to serve life imprisonment for murdering an employee of his hotel group in October 2001 to marry the latter’s wife. His appeal against the Madras High Court order upholding the trial court's judgement convicting him was rejected by the apex court in March this year.
Jeeva Jothi, whose husband, Santhakumar, was abducted and murdered in October 2001, told New18 she had been waiting for this day and welcomed the apex court’s verdict. The hotelier, who already had two wives, had hatched a conspiracy to kill Santhakumar to fulfil his marital plans.
Rajagopal, then in his early 50s, was supposedly enamoured by the idea of marrying the 20-year-old Jeeva Jyothi. An astrologer had allegedly advised him to marry for a third time, claiming the union would bring him more success.
After exerting considerable pressure on Jeeva Jyothi and showering her with lavish gifts, Rajagopal resorted to blackmail and threats. Rajagopal told the woman that his second wife had also “married him under duress” but was “leading a queen’s life”.
When the tactics did not yield the desired results, he even held the couple hostage for a few days. Rajagopal then directed one of his henchmen to “do away with” Santhakumar. While the henchman followed the order, he told the victim to run away and never return.
Santhakumar apparently did not pay heed to the second piece of advice, much to his own peril. He returned to Chennai after a brief stay in Mumbai. The couple decided to fall at Rajagopal’s feet and seek his permission to be allowed to live peacefully as a couple. The hotelier, who had not expected to see Santhakumar alive, first took the henchman to task and then ordered him to finish off Jeeva Jyothi’s partner.
A few days later, in October 2001, forest officials found Santhakumar’s body at Perumalmalai in the picturesque hill station of Kodaikanal. A post-mortem report showed his death was caused by “asphyxia due to throttling”.
After being in prison for eight months, Rajagopal was granted bail on medical grounds. A trial court sentenced him to seven years in jail, followed by an appeal in the high court, which led to a life sentence. The high court’s verdict was challenged in the Supreme Court.