P Rajagopal, the owner of the Saravana Bhavan chain of restaurants, has died in hospital a week after he surrendered to serve a life sentence for the 2001 kidnapping and murder of an employee. On July 10, 72-year-old Rajagopal had arrived in an ambulance with an oxygen mask strapped to his face after the Supreme Court turned down his request to delay his sentence on medical grounds.
Rajagopal had been admitted to a private hospital after his surrender. Sources say he suffered a heart attack.
Dubbed the “Dosa king”, Rajagopal had been granted bail by the Supreme Court in 2009 but had to surrender by July 7.
In 2004, Rajagopal was convicted in the kidnapping and murder of an employee, Prince Santhakumar. A local court had sentenced Rajagopal and eight others to 10 years in prison. Five years later, the Madras High Court confirmed the verdict and increased the sentence to life in prison, a punishment then upheld by the Supreme Court in March.
The prosecution had argued that Rajagopal plotted the murder of Santhakumar so he could marry his young wife.
The case, which has attracted considerable attention both in India and abroad, goes back to the 1990s. Rajagopal allegedly wanted to marry the daughter of an assistant manager at Saravana Bhavan’s Chennai branch, on the advice of his astrologer.
At the time, Rajagopal had two wives and the young woman, then in her twenties, rejected him. She married Santakumar in 1999. The prosecution told the court Rajagopal threatened the couple in 2001 and demanded they end the marriage.
Days after the couple went to the police, Santhakumar was kidnapped and killed. His body was found in the forests.
Born to an onion seller in Tuticorin, Rajagopal began his career as a grocer in Chennai.
He struck gold with “Saravana Bhavan” which grew into a chain of restaurants with outlets in 20 countries including the US, the UK, France and Australia.
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