End of a trial

Print edition : November 15, 1997

Seven years after the killing of EPRLF leader K. Padmanabha and 14 others, the Designated Court that tried the case has acquitted 15 of the 17 accused, including a former DMK Minister and a former Home Secretary.

IN a judgment delivered on November 8, the judge of the Designated Court-II that held the trial in the 'Padmanabha murder case' acquitted 15 of the 17 accused on the ground that the prosecution had "not proved beyond any reasonable doubt" the allegations against them. The judge, Arumuga Perumal Adithan, convicted the other two accused, Chinna Santhan and Anandaraj, for offences under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, or TADA. Among those acquitted are former Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Minister Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan, her husband Jagadeesan, former State Home Secretary R. Nagarajan, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader V. Gopalsamy's brother V. Ravichandran and advocate D. Veerasekaran.

Chinna Santhan was declared guilty under Section 3 (3) of TADA for advising, abetting and facilitating the crime. He was sentenced to six years of rigorous imprisonment (R.I.) and fined Rs. 2,000. If he does not pay the fine, he has to undergo one more year of imprisonment. Anandaraj was found guilty under Section 3 (4) of TADA for harbouring Gundu Santhan, one of the accused in the case. Anandaraj was sentenced to five years R.I. A fine of Rs.1,000 was also imposed on him and failure to pay the fine will attract another six months of imprisonment.

EPRLF leader K. Padmanabha, who was killed by the LTTE on June 19, 1990.-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

Of the 26 who were listed as accused in the original charge-sheet filed by the Tamil Nadu Special Investigation Team (TANSIT), Sivarasan and Gundu Santhan (who are among the accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case) are dead. Kiruban escaped from custody. Six of them - Pottu Amman (who is also an accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case), Daniel, David, Dileepan, Ravi and Nagaraja - were declared proclaimed offenders since they absconded. Since a trial cannot be held in absentia, the remaining 17 faced the trial, which was held at a specially-built court at Poonamallee, about 30 km from Chennai.

The 17 accused were (in the order in which they have been listed in the charge-sheet): Chinna Santhan, Vicky, R. Nagarajan, Rajan alias Kunjan, T.V. Marudanayagam, Jayabalasingham, Chandravadana (Jayabalasingham's wife), Vasanthan, Anandaraj, Sebastian, Mahendran, Gunaraja, Irumborai, D. Veerasekaran, Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan, Jagadeesan and Ravichandran.

THIRTEEN leaders of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), including its secretary-general K. Padmanabha, were shot dead in Chennai on June 19, 1990 allegedly by a killer squad of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Two local residents were also killed in the attack.

Former DMK Minister Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan, her husband Jagadeesan (left) and former Home Secretary R. Nagarajan (right) at the Designated Court premises in Chennai after their acquittal.-N. BALAJI

The EPRLF leaders were holding a meeting in a flat at Kodambakkam when an armed group of LTTE men burst into the room and sprayed them with bullets. The assailants also exploded hand grenades. The murders sent shock waves across Tamil Nadu and caused widespread revulsion against the killers.

The LTTE's animosity towards the EPRLF arose from its perception that the EPRLF was pro-India. The animosity increased after hostilities broke out between the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and the LTTE on October 10, 1987. The IPKF was deployed in the Tamil majority North-Eastern Province of Sri Lanka under the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement signed on July 29, 1987. When the Sri Lankan Government announced that elections to the North-Eastern Provincial Council would be held on November 1988, the LTTE gave a call to boycott the polls. It warned that anyone who took part in the elections would be declared a "traitor" and punished. The EPRLF contested the elections and formed a Ministry headed by its leader A. Varadaraja Perumal. After the IPKF pulled out of Sri Lanka in March 1990, the North-Eastern Provincial Council collapsed and EPRLF leaders fled to Chennai. The killers struck on June 19, killing Padmanabha and other leaders. A DMK government led by M. Karunanidhi was then ruling the State.

THE All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) Government headed by Jayalalitha, which came to power after the dismissal of the DMK Government and a spell of President's rule, set up TANSIT in December 1991 to probe the murder of the EPRLF leaders. TANSIT filed the charge-sheet on August 12, 1992. According to the charge-sheet, the murders were an act of revenge against EPRLF cadres who the LTTE believed had worked against it with the help of the IPKF after Varadaraja Perumal became the Chief Minister of the North-Eastern Provincial Council.

The charge-sheet said that the conspiracy was hatched in Jaffna, Tiruchi and Chennai. Pottu Amman allegedly worked out the plot in Jaffna in February 1990. On his instructions, Chinna Santhan came to Chennai and joined an engineering technology institute, which was near the flat where the EPRLF leaders lived. The charg-sheet further alleged that a squad consisting of Sivarajan, David, Dileepan, Daniel and Ravi arrived in Tamil Nadu on June 10, 1990 and that on being informed by Chinna Santhan that Padmanabha and other EPRLF leaders were holding a meeting in the flat, the assailants reached the spot in a car with AK-47 rifles and hand grenades. They shot dead Padmanabha and others. The group is alleged to have fled in a Maruti car, driven to Pillaiyar Thidal village in Thanjavur district the next day and escaped in a boat to Jaffna.

In his 271-page judgment, Adithan said that although 206 witnesses were examined, there was no direct evidence to prove that the first eight in the list of accused got together either in Jaffna or Tiruchi or in Chennai and made preparations to kill Padmanabha. The judge said: "There is absolutely no evidence on record to show that A 1 to A 8 had committed the offence of conspiracy" (under Section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code).

The prosecution case against former Home Secretary R. Nagarajan was that he had instructed higher police officers not to apprehend the assailants so that they could escape. But, the judge said, an Inspector-General and a Deputy Inspector-General of Police, who were examined, did not support the case of the prosecution. The judge said that there "is absolutely no evidence on record" to show that Nagarajan was connected with the Padmanabha murder case or that he took part in terrorist activities.

The judge rejected allegations that Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan and Jagadeesan had harboured Gundu Santhan in their farm-house near Erode in September-October 1991. He also rejected similar charges against Ravichandran and Veerasekaran. The judge said that these four were not liable for offences under Section 3 (4) of TADA.

About Chinna Santhan, the judge said that he had "knowingly abetted, advised and facilitated the commissioning of the terrorist act committed by the killer squad." According to the judge's order, a four-member killer squad reached the spot of the crime in a car. While two of the killers stood outside the flat where the EPRLF meeting was on, the other two entered it and opened fire indiscriminately. Chinna Santhan (who had positioned himself near the flat before the killer squad arrived) left the scene of the crime along with the assailants immediately after the incident. The judge said that the witnesses had identified Chinna Santhan. It was clear from evidence that AK-47 rifles and bombs containing RDX explosive were used by the killers, he said.

The case against Anandaraj was that he was a staunch follower and sympathiser of the LTTE and that he harboured Gundu Santhan in his house. "It is clear from documentary and oral evidence" that Anandaraj had allowed Gundu Santhan to stay in his house in Tiruchi, the judge said. He was, therefore, held guilty under Section 3 (4) of TADA for harbouring Gundu Santhan. (Gundu Santhan committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide pill when the police tried to arrest him.)

The judge said that the escape of the killer squad was a "slur" on the efficiency of the police department. He said that the Tamil Nadu Government had a moral obligation to compensate the victims of this "ghastly massacre even though no amount of money can console the kith and kin." The judge added: "This court appeals to the Government to give at least Rs. 2 lakhs as compensation to the legal heir of each of the victims who lost their lives."

REACTING to the judgment, Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan said that it proved that the Jayalalitha Government had filed "false charges" against her and that it was a case of vendetta. She demanded that Jayalalitha quit politics.

Nagarajan said that his acquittal proved that the charges against him were "false" and "completely politically motivated." He added that he had undergone "six years of (mental) torture", suffered financial loss and lost four years of service in government.

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