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Monday, June 21, 2021

CBI officer who probed Rajiv Gandhi assassination dies

In his career spanning nearly four decades, between 1968 and 2006, the Rajiv Gandhi assassination probe alone took almost a decade. He was awarded the Police Medal in 1988 and President Medal in 1994.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai |
Updated: May 13, 2021 2:24:27 am
Ragothaman had handled several significant cases of high-profile politicians during his tenure (Twitter/MP Ravikumar)

RETIRED CBI officer K Raghothaman, who was the chief investigation officer of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that probed the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case in the early 1990s, died of Covid-19 at a Chennai hospital on Wednesday. He was 76. He is survived by four children.

In his career spanning nearly four decades, between 1968 and 2006, the Rajiv Gandhi assassination probe alone took almost a decade. He was awarded the Police Medal in 1988 and President Medal in 1994.

Although he probed several high-profile cases across the country, it was a book he authored after retirement – “Conspiracy to Kill Rajiv Gandhi” – that stoked a huge controversy because of the claims he made against the then CBI director D R Karthikeyan and former IB chief M K Narayanan.

Questioning the role of Narayanan, Raghothaman wrote in his book about a crucial piece of evidence, a video cassette of the assassination in Tamil Nadu’s Sriperumbudur shot by a local videographer.

In his book and in interviews later, he claimed evidence on the conspiracy angle was not allowed to be investigated in the case. “Two videos were shot at the venue of Rajiv Gandhi’s meeting. One of the videos had visuals of the assassin and her movements prior to Rajiv’s arrival. But it was seized by IB after the blast and was returned to the videographer after tampering. An inquiry in 1995 against the then IB chief Narayanan, for not handing over the video tape to SIT, was buried at the behest of the chief of SIT [Karthikeyan],” he had alleged.

“Even at the fag end of the investigation [mid-1990s], the video cassette had not been forthcoming [from IB]…. At the start of the investigation, we had no other basis to proceed with except the photos taken by Hari Babu. We had been groping in the dark. Had the chief of Intelligence Bureau given us the video cassette, it might have thrown rays of light,” he wrote in his book.

Although Raghothaman was the investigation officer in the case, later he was seen emerging as a voice pleading for justice for the convicts. He stood against capital punishment for them until three convicts escaped the noose in 2014 through a Supreme Court order.

During the investigation, however, he headed the team that ran Malligai, a building used as a detention and interrogation centre for suspects. There were serious allegations of torture methods against the investigators here.

Arputham Ammal, mother of one of the convicts A G Perarivalan, in an interview once recalled a kind gesture from Raghothaman. “One day, he bought me tea while I was waiting outside Poonamallee TADA court. I was unable to get a glimpse of my son as the jail was inside the complex. He showed me where the courtroom and where Arivu [Perarivalan] would stand during the trial.”

“Finally, when I was allowed to meet Arivu inside, I told him about the tea he offered me. He got agitated and cried saying he was the man who put all false cases against him. That was the first and last time I have ever seen my son so helpless and crying,” she had said.

In an interview with The Indian Express in 2017, Raghothaman, however, had recalled Perarivalan as the “pet boy” at Malligai. Denying reports of torture methods he led at Malligai, he said: “Malligai was a beautiful government bungalow with a garden. We used to serve the accused the best food, including non-vegetarian dishes twice a week. Arivu was our pet boy.”

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