A Special Investigation Team (SIT) of Karnataka police probing the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh last year has named a man arrested in August by Maharashtra ATS as the 14th accused in the case.
The SIT has named Sudhanva Gondhalekar, 39, a resident of Maharashtra’s Satara who is associated with radical Hindutva groups, as accused number 14. The SIT on Tuesday obtained a warrant from the principal sessions judge in Bengaluru for the custody of Gondhalekar, now in judicial custody in Maharashtra following his arrest on August 10 by the ATS for allegedly plotting terrorist attacks in the state.
Gondhalekar, a businessman associated with Hindutva groups like Shri Shiv Pratishtan Hindustan and Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, emerged as a suspect in the Lankesh case after investigation revealed that he allegedly played an active role in the execution of the murder.
CCTV footage at an apartment on a street near Lankesh’s home in Bengaluru’s RR Nagar area reportedly show images of a man resembling Gondhalekar moving around in the area four hours before the journalist was shot.
The SIT has surmised that Gondhalekar may have been seen near Lankesh’s home hours before the murder — possibly with an accomplice — to ensure that the plan was on track since an attempt to kill the journalist had failed. The SIT is likely to compare characteristics of the person seen in the CCTV footage with mannerisms of Gondhalekar to ascertain whether it was indeed him.
The SIT investigation has found that Gondhalekar — owner of a computer-aided design firm — was back in Bengaluru 10 days after Lankesh’s murder to retrieve the guns used in the murder and stored in a safehouse provided by an HJS activist who has been arrested. Gondhalekar also finds a mention in a diary belonging to Amol Kale, 37, a former HJS convener who has been identified as head of operations of a covert group which allegedly executed Lankesh’s murder. Gondhalekar has been referred to as “Pandeyji’’ in the diary, SIT sources said, adding that analysis of phone calls of Gondhalekar and Kale show that they are closely associated.
The probe has also found that a key suspect in the murder case, Sujeet Kumar, 38, was sheltered in Satara by Gondhalekar at the instance of Kale when the SIT was looking for Sujeet after arresting the first suspect, K T Naveen Kumar, in March. “Gondhalekar is a key link in the murder and is an important figure in the operations of the covert group,’’ SIT sources said.
Following Gondhalekar’s arrest, the ATS recovered 11 illegal countrymade guns on the basis of information given by him. “The accused number 3 (Gondhalekar) has revealed during custodial interrogation about clandestine storage of illegal weapons and other material… seized 11 country made pistols with magazines, one airgun, ten pistol barrels, six pistol magazines, six partially made pistol bodies, three partially made magazines, seven partially made pistol slides…,’’ the ATS said.
The SIT is hoping to find the 7.65-mm countrymade pistol that was used to kill Lankesh among the arms stockpiled by Gondhalekar and others.
According to financial declarations made by Gondhalekar’s design firm, it earned a revenue of Rs 45 lakh in its first year of operation. A total of 12 persons have been arrested in the Lankesh murder case so far.