Saravana Bhavan boss gets life for killing staffer

P Rajagopal, a successful business magnate who started the popular Saravana Bhavan group of hotels, was awarded life imprisonment by the Madras High Court on Thursday in a case relating to the abduction and murder of one of his employees so that he could marry his young wife.

A Division Bench, which observed that the crime was "a grave one done with a clear intension", enhanced the 10-year rigorous imprisonment awarded by a special court in 2004 to life imprisonment for Rajagopal and five others, who helped the restaurateur commit the crimes. The three years RI for three others was confirmed by the Bench, comprising Justice P K Mishra and Justice R Banumathi, when an appeal against the lower court sentence came before it on Thursday.

The offence committed by the convicts was unpardonable, observed the Bench while enhancing the prison sentences awarded to the hotelier and others.

Rajagopal, a provision store owner-turned-restaurateur 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. Attracted by her beauty, Rajagopal threatened the couple to sever the marriage to pave way for his marriage with Jeevanjoti.

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 on October 26, Shanthakumar was kidnapped from Chennai and taken to Kodaikanal where he was murdered the same day.

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