Founder of the popular Saravana Bhavan hotel chain P Rajagopal was on Thursday sentenced to life imprisonment in a murder case 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 PK 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 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".