Monday, August 31, 2009

Murder exposes convergence of crime, business and politics


WHILE refusing bail to a notorious goon involved in eight cases last week, Kerala high court judge KT Sankaran observed that if the government does not act decisively against such criminal elements, the rule of law will collapse and anarchy prevail.

The judge's warning came as the media, covering the murder of a young businessman, was treating the public to sensational accounts of links between politicians and criminals, and spokesmen of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the opposition were claiming the boot was on the other leg.

Paul M. George, 32, of the Rs200-billion George M. Muthoot group, was stabbed to death shortly after midnight on Aug.21 while driving from one of his resorts to another.

Founded by a small-time financier 122 years ago, the Muthoot group has now branched out into other areas, including hospitality, but money-lending remains its core activity. Paul was reportedly involved in a drug case in Delhi a few years ago.

Paul was driving a car belonging to one of his friends. He had instructed his driver to collect the key of the resort and follow.

The driver found him and one of his companions, Manu, lying on the road, bleeding. He took them to the hospital, where Paul was declared dead.

A team headed by Vinson M. Paul, Inspector General of Police, Ernakulam Range, began investigations immediately. Three days later, the IGP told the media the murder mystery had been solved. It was a case of road rage, not premeditated murder, he said.

According to the IGP's story, Paul George, who was drunk, knocked down a motor cyclist and drove off without stopping. Members of a criminal gang witnessed the accident. Some of its members intercepted the car after a chase and one of them, Kari Satheesan, who too was drunk, stabbed Paul with an S-shaped knife.

Police arranged for Satheesan to confess to the killing before media persons but did not allow him to take questions.

The media shot holes in the IGP's theory and showed that the police was still clueless on some crucial aspects of the case including the disappearance of three of Paul's companions on the fateful journey.

Two of them have been identified as Omprakash and Puthenpalam Rajesh, both goons of Thiruvananthapuram, against whom arrest warrants are pending. The third person involved in the vanishing trick was a television actress, whose identity has not been revealed.

Apparently after the stabbing, the trio drove away in the car, leaving the injured Paul and Manu bleeding on the road. The vehicle broke down at Chavara and was abandoned. How they got away from there is unclear.

By early morning the car was in police custody. However, men posing as automobile mechanics were able to remove the trio's bags from it.

On Sunday, amid speculation that Omprakash and Rajesh had escaped to Dubai, the police announced a reward of Rs100,000 for information about their whereabouts.
Media reports suggested that the goons escaped with the help of political patrons and police officials. They also dropped hints about the goons' proximity to a minister's son.

Embarrassed by the reports, Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan asked the media to stop weaving tales and leave the investigation to the police. Two days later, he went one step further and said his son was not connected with the case in any way.
CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan asked the media to stop making insinuations. He asked why they were not talking about Paul's antecedents and his association with goons.

Drawing a saffron herring across the trail, he said the S-shaped knife used by the killer was a weapon used by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh members.

The RSS responded by producing an old membership card of the Democratic Youth Federation of India in Satheesan's name and another of the Karshaka Thozhilali Union (farm labourers' body) in his mother Vilasini's name. Both organisations are CPI-M affiliates.

Thiruvananthapuram district CPI-M secretary Kadakampalli Surendran alleged that Omprakash was close to K. Sudhakaran, Congress MP from Kannur. Sudhakaran retorted that Omprakash and the home minister's son were like twins.

High media interest in a case of this kind is natural. As happens so often these days, its coverage tended to be sensationalistic.

Pinarayi Vijayan's intervention was a calculated attempt for a trade-off between the police's weaknesses and the party's with the media's.

Will Paul George's killers be brought to justice? The answer to this question must wait. But one thing can be said with certainty. His murder has exposed the convergence of crime, business and politics in the state. –Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 30, 2009.

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