The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the conviction and life sentence of Saravana Bhavan founder P Rajagopal in the Prince Santhakumar abduction and murder case.
A three judge Bench, led by Justice NV Ramana, gave him time till July 7 to surrender on medical grounds. 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.
Of Prince Santhakumar
In 1994, Rajagopal first saw Jeevajyothi, at a get-together thrown for Saravana Bhavan employees. Then a twelfth grader, Jaevajyothi was the daughter of Ramaswamy, one of Rajagopal’s employees at a Chennai SB branch. Although married twice already, he was told by his astrologer that if he married Jeevajyothi, she would bring him unimaginable riches. A proposal that did not appeal to Jeevajyothi for she was in love with Prince Santhakumar, a Math tutor who came to teach her younger brother.
As Santhakumar was Christian, Jeevajyothi’s father did not approve of her match, so the couple was forced to elope, registering their marriage in April 1999.
Financial constraints made life difficult for the two and Jeevajyothi’s mother apparently approached her husband’s boss, Rajagopal, to stand as a guarantor for a bank loan for the young couple to start a travel agency in Velachery, Chennai. Rajagopal offered to open a shop for the couple and he gave them Rs 1 lakh instead, The Times of India had reported.
To woo Jeevajyothi, Rajagopal gave her expensive gifts, jewellery. Such was his obsession that Rajagopal and his men spread a rumour that Shantakumar was suffering from AIDS.
“Rajagopal wanted to stop the girl from having a physical relationship with Shantakumar,” T Ramachandran, a retired superintendent of police, who investigated the case, told the daily.
In 2001, when Jeevajyothi threatened to go to the police, Rajagopal apparently deputed Daniel, the manager of his Chennai restaurant, to ‘eliminate’ Shantakumar. In October 2001, Santhakumar was abducted, and Jeevajyothi was taken to a village in TN, to ‘undo the effects of witch craft’ on her. Daniel and his team were paid Rs 5 lakh for Shanthakumar’s murder, but they did not kill him.
Instead, Daniel gave Shanthakumar Rs 5,000 to escape to Mumbai, and warned him to never return. But Santhakumar contacted his wife after being released, and the couple then confronted Rajagopal.
On 26 October 2001, Santhakumar was murdered while he, Jeevajyothi and her family were being taken to Tiruchendur.
It took three years before the hotelier was found guilty by a sessions court and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. A ruling which Rajagopal challenged and in 2009, the Madras High Court set the session court’s judgment aside, since under Section 302 (murder) of the IPC, the accused should have been given life imprisonment. And it took 18 years, before the Supreme Court upheld the conviction and P Rajagopal, the founder of arguably the most popular south Indian restaurant chain, was convicted of plotting the murder of the husband of the woman he once wanted to marry.