The Madras High Court on Thursday sentenced R Rajagopal, 59, the owner of the Saravana Bhavan Group of vegetarian restaurants, and five others to life imprisonment for murdering a man in 2001 in order to be able to marry his widow.
A lower court had, in 2004, sentenced them to 10 years rigorous imprisonment (RI). But after hearing the case, a Division Bench of the High Court, comprising Justice PK Mishra and Justice R Bhanumathi, enhanced the sentence to life imprisonment.
The court, however, reduced the fine of Rs 55 lakh imposed on the Saravana Bhavan owner by the lower court to Rs 30,000.
Rajagopal, whose rags to riches story — from a cleaner in a small hotel to the owner of a multinational chain of Udipi restaurants — made the case all the more sensational, had taken a fancy to Jeevajyothi, daughter of a Saravana Bhavan employee, and wanted to marry her.
But there was a hitch: she was already married to one Prince Santhakumar. In October 2001, Rajagopal’s henchmen abducted her husband from his house in Chennai, murdered him and dumped his body in the nearby Kodai Hills Forest.
The Saravana Bhavan promoter, who is out on bail, was not present in court when the sentence was pronounced. He was to surrender late Thursday night.
Incidentally, the high court had once cancelled his bail for threatening and sexually harassing Jeevajyothi. Rajagopal’s lawyer Appu Kutty said they would challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court.