Police officers describe him as the “Dawood Ibrahim of Tamil Nadu”, as the state’s most wanted man, or simply as “Don Sridhar”. They say he is based in Dubai and runs a real estate mafia near Chennai worth at least Rs 500 crore. And, with at least 43 cases registered against him, including seven of murder, they have been on his trail for years.
Now, in an exclusive online video interview with The Indian Express, his first to a mainstream publication, Sridhar Dhanapalan says he is ready to return to India and face legal proceedings if he is assured of a “fair trial”. The 43-year-old, who was once an illicit arrack-seller in Kanchipuram, also fears that he would be killed by Tamil Nadu police in an “encounter” if he returns on his own after his “business visa expires in 2017”.
“If the Tamil Nadu DGP or a good IPS officer asks me to come tomorrow and promises me a fair trial, I am happy to settle all my cases. They don’t have to kill me in an encounter, I myself will commit suicide with cyanide if there is any basis for the charges against me,” he said, speaking from Dubai.
Claiming that his advisors told him he would be targetted by police once he returned, Dhanapalan said, “I do not want to be killed. I haven’t taken a decision yet about my return to India.”
Tamil Nadu DGP Ashok Kumar was not available for comment while P Thamarai Kannan, IGP (north zone), under whose jurisdiction Kanchipuram falls, said he “can reply on the matter only after a few weeks”.
However, speaking to The Indian Express on condition of anonymity, a senior officer said, “Among the 20 criminals who are on our list, he is the most wanted now. He has the distinction of being the only rowdy on the list,” he said.
Senior police officers also confirmed that Dhanapalan left India in March-April 2013 after being released from prison following a six-month term and hasn’t returned from Dubai since. They said he had previously undergone multiple jail terms on a number of cases. Police and Dhanapalan confirmed that his passport was cancelled in 2015, and an Interpol notice issued in his name.
Dhanapalan re-emerged on the police radar on January 3, when he threatened a police inspector in Kanchipuram over phone after at least seven of his associates, including his brother, were detained under the Goonda Act.
Police sources said eight more cases were filed against Dhanapalan following the threat call. Most of the cases registered against Dhanapalan are related to real estate deals in and around Kanchipuram, said sources. In Kanchipuram alone, said police intelligence sources, Dhanapalan is believed to own buildings worth more than Rs 100 crore.
“This is all police’s imagination,” claimed Dhanapalan, adding that he was mainly in the business of supplying diesel for generators at construction sites in Dubai.
“I stopped the sale of illicit liquor in 2008 and started a real estate business. I do not know the total worth of properties I own. But I have some 150 acres of land, mostly farm-land… I did purchase land, some 15 deals, after coming to Dubai. I am a Hindu, an Indian. I live by the principles of the Thirukkural (the Tamil Sangam classic). I don’t have to grab anyone’s land by threat or force,” said Dhanapalan.
“(But) I am not a Gandhi or Buddha. I am not Jesus either, if someone slaps me on one cheek, I wouldn’t offer the other too. What happened to Jesus? He was deceived by Judas for just 30 silver coins. I don’t like problems but I am ready to fight with anyone who tries to harm me or is a threat to my life,” he said.
Police sources said the complaint that led to the arrest of Dhanapalan’s associates recently was filed by a local AIADMK leader who alleged that they threatened him in a real estate deal.
Dhanapalan, however, denied all charges against him, alleging that they were mostly foisted by local officers in Kanchipuram who were targeting him after he refused to accede to their demands.
“Recently, there was the murder of a scrap dealer called Abdullah. Now I have been told that they are trying to link my friends in that case, too… I am an easy target… I wish the senior officers verify the merit of the charges against me,” he said.
But according to a police officer, investigations have suggested just the opposite. The suspected mastermind behind Abdullah’s murder, over a business dispute, was none other than Dhanapalan, said the officer.