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Explained: What is the Kodanad case and why has it set off a political storm in Tamil Nadu?
The investigation in the case which started during the aiadmk regime has raised quite a few questions..
A crucial case set to come up for hearing in the district sessions court in Ooty on September 2. It is the Kodanad case that not only threatens to shake the political foundation of the AIADMK but has pitched arch-rivals DMK and the AIADMK against each other again. The hearing in the Kodanad case has already seen heated arguments inside court, while the two big parties of Tamil Nadu have been trading barbs outside. The case had even reached the Tamil Nadu Assembly with the AIADMK alleging political vendetta and the DMK saying it is working to fulfil one of its poll promises.
What is the Kodanad case?
The Kodanad Estate was once the summer retreat of former CM J Jayalalithaa. The property was initially spread over 900 acres of land and is said to be doubled in size. It was named as one of the disproportionate assets acquired by Jayalalithaa and Sasikala. However, besides this, the lush property hit headlines for all the wrong reasons from 2017 – a murder of a security guard, a robbery at Jayalalithaa’s retreat, three deaths allegedly due to road accidents, and suicide of an estate employee who was in charge of CCTV cameras and computers followed by political mudslinging.
So, why a political war over these serious crimes?
The investigation in the case which started during the AIADMK regime has raised quite a few questions. According to the prosecution, the security guard was killed during the robbery while another security guard was injured. Of the 11 people involved in the case, 10 have been arrested and one Kanagaraj died allegedly in an accident. Interestingly, the robbers had come in three vehicles including two high-end SUVs and what they took along with them? ‘A crystal rhinoceros figurine and 5 watches which appear to be very cheap.’ After the death of Jayalalithaa, VK Sasikala inherited the property and surprisingly, the police neither questioned her nor took her statement to find out what all valuables were missing. In fact, the police even did not prepare the missing articles mahazar. Also, the police do not know the whereabouts of the sole eyewitness to the burglary – Kishan Bahadur- the second guard who was injured. According to the officials, Bahadur had recorded his statement and was allowed to return to his hometown in Nepal and now his current location is not known. When the incident happened on April 28, 2017, many top bureaucrats had reached the crime scene before the investigative officers and forensic experts. The forensic experts had said that evidence was tampered with before they arrived at the crime scene.
KV Sayan, one of the key players in the case and whose car met with an accident in which he survived but lost his wife and daughter, has been demanding further investigation into the case saying he has ‘secret information’ to share with the court.
Last week, two contradictory pleas were filed in the Madras HC – one demanding interrogation of former chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami and V K Sasikala while the second seeking a stay on any further investigation.
While the AIADMK has accused the ruling DMK of a political witch hunt, the DMK has maintained that the investigation is meant to bring out the truth in the case. With many glaring loopholes, the DMK claims that the fresh investigation will help affected people get justice in the case.
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Kodanad heist-cum-murder case transferred to CB-CID
Tamil Nadu DGP C Sylendra Babu issued orders transferring the case to the CB-CID on Friday, a senior official said.
The Kodanad heist-cum-murder case has been transferred to the Crime Branch-CID to expedite the case.
The Kodanad tea estate of late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa was robbed in 2017 and a security guard Om Bahadur was found dead while his colleague Krishna Bahadur was wounded.
Police said 11 men were involved in the heist and murder. Two of the suspected accused Kanagaraj, who served as Jayalalithaa’s driver, and Sayan died in separate road accidents within a week after the robbery during which some documents were stolen.
Manoj, one of the accused in the case, moved the Madras High Court seeking to speed up the case. Six people had reportedly fled to Kerala via Gudalur after the crime was committed on April 23, said police.
A Special Investigation Team questioned an assistant to a former AIADMK legislator in connection with the case, which was re-opened after the DMK came to power last year.
- Kodanad estate
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Home » News » The murky heist-cum-murder case at Jayalalithaa’s Kodanad estate is back in the limelight
The murky heist-cum-murder case at Jayalalithaa’s Kodanad estate is back in the limelight
With madras hc directing the probe into the kodanad estate case be expedited, it has now been handed over to cb-cid..
Picture of Kodanad tea estate of J Jayalalithaa.
The strange, murky and sensational Kodanad tea estate heist-cum-murder case is back in the limelight, with the Tamil Nadu police on Friday, 30 September, transferring the investigation to the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID).
The case pertains to the murder of a watchman and a robbery at the Kodanad tea estate bungalow of late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in April 2017, few months after she passed away.
The Kodanad estate case, which has seen several twists and turns, was at the trial stage when the Nilgiris police decided to re-open and conduct further investigation into it in August 2021 — after the DMK government came to power in Tamil Nadu.
Many believed that the initial investigation — conducted under the previous AIADMK government with Edappadi K Palanisamy (EPS) was the chief minister — was shoddy, especially given the murky nature of the case, and some stunning allegations levelled by the two accused about EPS’ own role in the crime.
A Special Investigation Team (SIT) was set up to further probe the Kodanad case after the DMK assumed power. Though over 200 persons were examined, including VK Sasikala, who jointly owned the Kodanad bungalow with Jayalalithaa, and a few others arrested, the SIT was unable to make any serious headway in the past one year.
The move to transfer the investigation to the CB-CID comes just few days after the Madras High Court asked the police to expedite the probe and file an additional final report in the lower court as soon as possible.
The crime explained
According to the FIR in the case, the crime was committed at the sprawling 800-acre Kodanadu tea estate, often described as Jayalalithaa’s summer retreat, between midnight and 2 am on 24 April, 2017, by a 11-member gang which broke into the bungalow to allegedly steal money to the tune of ₹200 crore that they believed to be in the bunglow, and other valuables.
The accused in the case are: Kanagaraj (main accused, deceased), a former driver of Jayalalithaa, KV Sayan, Walayar Manoj, D Deepu, Jamsheer Ali, S Satheesan, Bijin Kutty, Udhayakumar, Santosh Samy, Manoj Samy and Jithin Joy.
While breaking-in, the gang allegedly attacked a guard named Krishna Dhaba. He was tied up with a coir rope and an injury was inflicted to his right thumb. His phone was also allegedly stolen by the accused.
As they proceeded towards the bungalow, they ran into another watchman at Gate No. 10, Om Bahadur, who worked at the tea estate. He was brutally thrashed by the gang. The chargesheet stated that apart from the indiscriminate thrashing, Om Bahadur’s mouth was gagged and a dhoti was tightly tied around his neck. The gang then hung him upside down on a casuarina tree which led to his death due to asphyxiation.
A minor theft?
Apart from the murder, as per the chargesheet, the gang stole 10 wrist watches and a crystal rhinoceros doll worth ₹42,000 from the bungalow.
“…While accused A1, A2, A3, A4 and A5 went inside three rooms of the bungalow, searched for money and valuables, to their shock and dismay, they did not find any currency notes but only 10 wrist watches and a crystal rhinocerous doll worth about ₹42,000 in all,” the chargesheet read.
This is a claim that many believe is untrue.
For instance, a lawyer of the accused who spoke to South First alleged that the accused were asked to retrieve “important documents” from the summer retreat of the late chief minister. Sources close to Sasikala, who was lodged in the Bengaluru central prison at the time of the crime, also hinted at the same.
When the SIT started investigating the case after 2021, they added two new suspects : Kanagaraj’s brother Dhanapal and relative Ramesh for allegedly destroying evidence.
All things murky
What makes the case so sensational is the murky details of the crime — as well as the strange things that have happened subsequent to it.
For example, four days after the crime, the main accused in the case, Kanagaraj, was killed in a road accident on 28 April, 2017, on the Salem-Chennai national highway. The police were on the lookout for him that day.
Adding to the mystery, the very same day Kanagaraj died, another main accused Sayan, along with his family members, also met with an accident. Sayan lost his wife and child in the road accident.
Similarly, Dinesh Kumar, a member of the staff at the Kodanadu estate’s computer section, died by suicide on 3 July, 2017, just months after the murder-cum-heist took place at the bunglow.
In a major twist, in 2019, the name of the former chief minister EPS cropped up in connection with the case.
In a sting operation conducted by former Narada News editor Mathew Samuel, one of the accused, Sayan, alleged that EPS was behind the robbery attempt and the subsequent events, as he wanted to retrieve some important documents from the estate.
However, EPS rejected the allegations, dismissing them as baseless. He also filed a defamation case against Samuel.
What is also significant is that Kanagaraj hailed from Edappadi in Salem district, EPS’ native place.
Further, the investigating officer in the case, during his deposition and cross-examination, stated that there were no CCTV cameras at the tea estate bungalow.
It is worth noting that the bungalow was no ordinary place, but one frequently visited by former chief minister Jayalalithaa, Sasikala, AIADMK leaders, bureaucrats and others. It turned into the Chief Minister’s Office every time Jayalalithaa visited the place.
The entire issue turned into a huge political controversy at the time when the then Opposition leader MK Stalin demanded the resignation of EPS, and urged the Governor to order an SIT probe into the matter.
A shoddy probe
Lawyers of some of the accused in the case, and even political observers in the state, believe that the initial probe in the Kodanad case, which was carried out when the AIADMK was in power, was done in a shoddy manner.
Speaking to South First , a lawyer of the accused said that many angles, including the alleged role of EPS in the conspiracy, was not even investigated by the police. He also alleged that the cops buried or destroyed several key pieces of evidence pertaining to the case.
What became clear from the deposition and cross-examination of the investigating officer was that there were several lapses even in the preliminary investigation.
To begin with, the investigating officer visited the crime spot seven hours after the heist-cum-murder was committed. Once again, it is worth noting that the location of the crime was no ordinary place, but the bungalow of the AIADMK supremo and the late chief minister of the state.
In his cross-examination, the investigating officer also said that though he examined the two rooms that were broken into in the bungalow, no record of it was created.
Likewise, photos of Jayalalithaa’s and Sasikala’s rooms, which were broken into, were not taken. No Mahasar, or spot map, was created of the hall and rooms that the gang entered during the heist. Also, forensic evidence was not collected from the hall and the two rooms on the first floor.
Importantly, the investigating officer said that no inventory was made of the things and valuables that existed in the bungalow.
The officer did not investigate the death of prime accused Kanagaraj in the road accident. When asked if the political angle was probed, he said it was done in a general manner, but not particularly.
The case, shrouded as it was in mystery, was used by the DMK when they were in Opposition to mount pressure on the ruling AIADMK. During the 2021 Assembly election campaign, Stalin on multiple occasions stated that the truth behind the Kodanad case would come out once the DMK came to power.
Accordingly, after the party won the elections, the Nilgiris police decided to re-investigate the case citing new leads.
The issue was taken up in the assembly by the AIADMK in August 2021, where EPS and others alleged that the decision to re-open the case was born out of political vendetta and that the DMK wanted to falsely implicate EPS in the case. The AIADMK members even staged a walkout from the Assembly and staged a protest.
Many political observers in the state claim that the reason why EPS is allegedly going “soft” on the DMK government on various issues is because of the Kodanad case hanging like a sword above his head.
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Why is Tamil Nadu govt not transferring Kodanad case to CBI, asks EPS
EPS was responding to an article published in DMK’s mouthpiece Murasoli on August 30. The piece stated that EPS was nervous at the mere mention of Kodanad.
Chennai: Leader of opposition in Tamil Nadu assembly Edappadi Palaniswami (EPS) on Wednesday asked why the state government is not handing over the probe into the 2017 Kodanad heist-cum-murder case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and accused the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) of trying to frame him.
His remarks came even as the police continue to probe the case and his colleague-turned-foe O Panneerselvam (OPS) is planning to move the Madras high court on the matter.
“There are so many deaths which happen when one is chief minister. Even in the DMK regime so many people have died. If you want to investigate the current chief minister for it, will he come for the inquiry?” EPS asked reporters in Madurai airport.
EPS was responding to an article published in DMK’s mouthpiece Murasoli on August 30. The piece stated that EPS was nervous at the mere mention of Kodanad and that he should have been part of the CB-CID inquiry process if he indeed had information to share.
“Why are they speaking only about this one death? Because they are deliberately spreading rumours. I have already filed a case against an individual spreading rumours, which is pending in the high court,” he said. EPS also recalled that during his regime, they had arrested those involved in the case, which went to the trial stage. “It was the DMK’s advocates who represented the accused at that time and brought them out on bail,” said EPS. “This raises a doubt on the government. Why don’t they direct the case to be investigated by the CBI?”
EPS also said that 90% of the probe into the case was completed when the DMK shifted it from the state police to the CB-CID last September. “How long will it take to complete another 10%?” EPS said. “Since they are unable to pin us on anything, they are scheming against us due to political vendetta.”
During the last hearing on July 11, principal district judge Abdul Khader had ordered the CB-CID to submit a status report on the investigation conducted for the past 10 months. So far they have questioned 158 people. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the CB-CID requested an Ooty court for more time to collect and analyse call details from 19 mobile towers, an official said.
The Kodanad tea estate in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris district was late chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s summer retreat and sometimes she even functioned from there while in office. On the night of April 23, 2017, a group of 10 men hacked to death Om Bahadur, a security guard at Kodanad estate. They broke into the bungalow and allegedly looted the place. After police made arrests in the case, the trial began In October 2019 in the Nilgiris (district) sessions court.
The case has been shrouded in mystery as a week after the break-in, on April 28, two of the main accused met with separate road accidents. C Kanagaraj, who was once Jayalalithaa’s driver, died on the spot near Salem. K V Sayan escaped with serious injuries but his wife and daughter died on the spot while they were on their way to Kerala.
The DMK which was in the opposition when the crime happened had then sought the resignation of EPS who took over as chief minister following Jayalalithaa’s death. After the DMK formed the government in May 2021, the police launched fresh investigations into the case. Nilgiris police summoned key accused Sayan who had earlier linked EPS to the crime. Since then EPS has alleged that the DMK schemed to take a ‘secret statement’ from Sayan to frame him.
Divya Chandrababu is an award-winning political and human rights journalist based in Chennai, India. Divya is presently Assistant Editor of the Hindustan Times where she covers Tamil Nadu & Puducherry. She started her career as a broadcast journalist at NDTV-Hindu where she anchored and wrote prime time news bulletins. Later, she covered politics, development, mental health, child and disability rights for The Times of India. Divya has been a journalism fellow for several programs including the Asia Journalism Fellowship at Singapore and the KAS Media Asia- The Caravan for narrative journalism. Divya has a master's in politics and international studies from the University of Warwick, UK. As an independent journalist Divya has written for Indian and foreign publications on domestic and international affairs. ...view detail
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