A senior Bengaluru journalist, Ravi Belagere, was arrested by the crime branch on Friday on charges of hiring killers to gun down his professional rival and former colleague, identified by the police as Sunil Heggaravalli. The alleged contract killing plot by Belagere (59) came to the light while the police were investigating gun runners in the state to zero in on the killers of journalist Gauri Lankesh on September 5 in Bengaluru. Apart from Belagere, the police also arrested an alleged contract killer and arms supplier, Sashidhar Mundewadi (35), from the Vijayapura district in north Karnataka and his associate Anoop Gowda alias Tahir (27) from Bengaluru in connection with the plot to kill Heggaravalli.
The police are on the lookout for Vijay Badiger, 27, a cousin of Mundewadi who was also allegedly involved in the plot. The police have officially declared the recovery of two country made 7.65 mm pistols from the possession of the arrested contract killers and are expected to find more guns. Belagere is the editor of the Kannada tabloid Hi Bangalore. Mundewadi, Gowda and Badiger have a history of crimes such as murder and extortion against their names.
Based on field intelligence reports that the 7.65 mm country made pistol and ammunition was used to kill Lankesh was sourced in the Vijayapura region — a centre for illegal arms trade — the SIT and the Vijayapura police have over the past three months tracked down dozens of gun runners who source weapons in Madhya Pradesh and sell them on the Karnataka- Maharashtra border in places like Vijayapura and Sangli. The SIT, during its probe into Lankesh’s murder, found out that Gowda, Mundewadi and their associates had sourced several guns from the gun runners in Vijayapura in recent times.
A close examination of their activities revealed that the Vijayapura gang was planning a “supari killing’’ in Bengaluru. The police, alerted about the findings, arrested Gowda on December 3 from a hotel in Bengaluru and subsequently Mundewadi.
Investigations have revealed that the contract killers had been hired by Belagere to kill his former colleague Sunil Heggaravalli for allegedly wooing away Belagere’s second wife. Professional rivalry over claims of rights over the story for a book on the gangs of Vijayapura are also alleged to have played a part in the plotting of the murder. Belagere was recently in the news in June when the Karnataka Assembly sought his arrest to serve a one-year term for publishing a defamatory article against the Speaker of the Assembly in a September 2014 edition of his tabloid. The arrest order was stayed by the Karnataka High Court on December 7.
No evidence has been found so far to link the contract killers in the Belagere case with the Lankesh murder, the sources said. “The CCB is investigating him in a different case,’’ the SIT’s investigating officer M N Anucheth stated.