Tamil Nadu’s mysterious Kodanad case revolving around a heist and the murder of a security guard deployed at late chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s luxurious property, the suicide of an estate employee, and the deaths of two accused in alleged road accidents, is back to haunt the AIADMK.
VK Sasikala, a close associate of Jayalalithaa, will be questioned on Thursday by the special team investigating the case. This is the first time she will be quizzed on the matter.
This is an important development as it is for the first time that a high-profile leader is being questioned in the Kodanad case.
The former AIADMK general secretary has been issued summons to appear before the team in Chennai, close on the heels of the questioning of another former party functionary and MLA, VC Arukutty, on April 18.
The heist-murder case whipped up a political storm in 2019, with the DMK attacking then Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami. With the DMK back in power, the case has gathered steam once again. The AIADMK calls it “a witch hunt to defame its leaders”, but the ruling party insists it is only facilitating the completion of the investigation that has dragged along for years.
Jayalalithaa’s Kodanad estate, nestled in the beautiful Nilgiris, came into focus in April 2017, when Om Bahadur, a watchman employed there, was found murdered. The property was the former CM’s second home and was often called the “Tamil Nadu chief minister’s camp office”.
Initially reported as a gang robbery that led to the murder of Bahadur, the case took a twist when two of the main accused died “suspiciously”. The police named 11 people as suspects in the case— Kanagaraj, Sayan, Manoj Samy, Deepu, Satheeshan, Santhosh Samy, Udayakumar, Walayar Manoj, Kutty, Jithin Joy, and Jamsheer.
Two years later, the case saw another twist when one of the prime accused, KV Sayan, alleged that Palaniswami, Sasikala, and her relatives Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi, had a hand in the heist-murder.
Sasikala’s questioning comes close on the heels of ‘Anubhav’ Ravi’s interrogation by the special team. Ravi is a functionary of Amma Peravai, a wing of the AIADMK tasked with spreading awareness about the achievements of the then Jayalalithaa-led government. He was interrogated on April 18. According to the police, Kanagaraj, a key accused, had made his last phone call to Ravi before being found dead in an apparent road accident on April 24, 2017.
Observers say the Kodanad heist-murder is quite a complex case — with years of investigations, recording of statements of the accused and witnesses, and suspicious deaths thereafter.
According to the charge sheet, an 11-member gang led by Kanagaraj hatched a conspiracy to rob the estate, which they believed had gold and diamond jewellery worth crores of rupees, cash stash, and documents.
When Jayalalithaa resided at the estate, it was protected like a fortress with more than 600 police personnel guarding the area and a large number of CCTV cameras for 24X7 surveillance. However, after her demise in 2016, almost all security cover including cameras were removed.
Recreating the crime scene, the charge sheet stated that Kanagaraj along with his associates came in two cars around 10.30 pm on April 23, 2017. It said that Kanagaraj had plotted the heist along with KV Sayan, another prime accused, after the former claimed there were crores of rupees stashed in the estate.
They meticulously planned the robbery and were ready to do away with anybody who came in the way, said police sources. The estate had 13 gates and the accused allegedly broke open the lock of gate number 8 and tied up the guard, Krishna Thapa. While two men from their gang watched over Thapa, the others decided to enter through gate number 10 where Om Bahadur, another guard, was deployed.
They attacked and murdered Bahadur and gained access into the bungalow by breaking open a window using an iron rod. While Kanagaraj and the team split into groups to search the premises, they did not find any money. They took 10 expensive watches and a crystal rhino worth around Rs 42,000 and left the property.
While initially the heist-murder was being investigated, the “suspicious death” of Kangaraj in Salem brought the focus back on the case. Sayan, another suspect, narrowly escaped death in a vehicle accident in Palakkad. He, however, lost his wife and child in the crash.
Dinesh Kumar, who worked as a computer operator on the estate, was found dead a few months later. The police investigations pointed towards suicide, but the timing of the death made it suspicious, officials noted. The police probe also stated that the break-in could not have been attempted without the help of insiders. There was a power cut at the time and that “could have only been facilitated by an insider”, said a TN police official close to the investigations.
However, the Kodanad case saw more twists as the investigating officer Balasundaram in his deposition claimed that there were severe lapses during the probe, including omission of photos and videos of the crime scene, inventory of valuables in the estate, and the “suspicious” deaths of accused.