A Bengaluru city court on Friday gave the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of Karnataka police investigating Gauri Lankesh’s murder five-day additional custody of the suspect arrested last week to take him to locations in Goa and Belgaum, where he had allegedly gone as part of the conspiracy to carry out the journalist-activist’s killing.
Accused K T Naveen Kumar, 37, an activist of Hindu Yuva Sena, and also associated with the Goa-headquartered radical Hindutva group Sanatan Sanstha, was produced before a city magistrate’s court on Friday at the end of eight-day police custody.
Assistant public prosecutor Nirmala Rani told the court that additional custody is required to take Kumar to places in Goa and Belgaum district in north Karnataka to unravel the murder conspiracy. She also told the court that Kumar and an associate, Praveen, who is yet to be detained, have been identified so far for involvement in the murder.
The SIT has indicated that the two were involved in scoping out Lankesh’s home, as also pointing it out to an unidentified assailant, wearing a helmet, who arrived at the gate of Lankesh’s house with an unidentified accomplice on a motorcycle on the evening of September 5 last year and shot her.
The SIT informed the court that it intends to put Kumar through forensic tests such as lie detector, voice sampling, brain mapping and narcoanalysis to ascertain whether he is stating facts during interrogation, as he keeps changing his versions. While the SIT told the court that Kumar had given his consent for the narco test, and a video copy of the oral consent was provided to the court, when asked in court whether he was willing to undergo the test, Kumar and his lawyers said he would like to refuse consent.
The court is expected to pass an order on this on March 15. Despite denials by Sanatan Sanstha about its links to Naveen Kumar, a senior advocate linked to the Sanstha appeared in court on Friday on behalf of Kumar and assisted advocate Vedamurthy, who had earlier appeared for the accused.
The advocate, Virendra Ichalkaranjikar, who is head of the Sanstha-linked Hindu Vidhidnya Parishad, was part of a press conference of Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) on the Gauri Lankesh case in September last year.
Ichalkaranjikar, who has been in Bengaluru over the last couple of weeks with a group of advocates to assist Naveen Kumar, told the media that he has come from Maharashtra since he takes up cases of Hindu activists when they are “falsely accused”.
He also alleged that Naveen Kumar’s arrest was “all politics” in the run-up to Karnataka Assembly polls. An SIT officer involved in the probe countered, “If Naveen Kumar is not associated with Sanatan Sanstha, and is an insignificant person, why have all these lawyers been sent to fight on his behalf?” Links between Kumar and the Sanstha emerged after evidence surfaced that Kumar had organised a meeting of the Sanstha and the HJS in his hometown, Maddur, last November. He was also at the Sanstha headquarters in Goa for several days last year for a conference. The SIT is expected to take Kumar to places he is suspected to have visited as part of the conspiracy.
Bail in Arms Act case
Kumar was arrested under the jurisdiction of Upparpet police station in west Bengaluru on February 18 based on a complaint by a Crime Branch official after he was found in the city allegedly carrying bullets. The investigations in the Upparpet case has shown that Kumar, during conversations about guns and ammunition with some of his friends from Maddur, alluded to his links to the murder of Lankesh.
On Friday, a magistrate’s court approved bail for Naveen Kumar in the Arms Act case. The court did not consider the police’s plea to include charges of attempt to murder and conspiracy in the case since investigations had revealed that Kumar was allegedly at advanced stage of executing the killing of K S Bhagawan, an outspoken writer, rationalist and critic of some Hindu religious beliefs.
Bhagawan is based in Mysuru. Police sources said it had not yet been decided whether the conspiracy to kill Bhagawan, which was discovered in the course of the Gauri Lankesh investigations, would become a part of the Arms Act case where Kumar was first arrested, or whether a new case will be filed in Mysuru, where Kumar had conducted preparations, including alleged recces of the writer’s home to carry out a killing.
The SIT took Kumar into its custody after informing a magistrate’s court in Bengaluru on March 2 that it had found evidence of his involvement in the Lankesh murder in the course of the investigation of the case where he was arrested on February 18. In SIT’s custody, Kumar is said to have provided investigators inputs about the route taken by him to spy on Gauri Lankesh’s home on the day of the murder and to show her home to the killers.
Police are trying to verify whether Kumar was seen on CCTV cameras conducting a recce on a motorcycle around the journalist-activist’s home the day she was shot down.