Updated: August 31, 2021 7:11:58 am
A KEY accused in the Mysuru gangrape case was linked to at least four sandalwood theft and smuggling cases in the region since 2019, with the latest of those filed in January this year, it has emerged.
Police are now looking at the possibility of the sandalwood theft gang’s involvement in other attacks and robberies in Mysuru, which may have not been reported on account of fear among the victims.
Bhupathi, alias Keeri, 24, a resident of Talavadi town in Tamil Nadu’s Erode district, a key accused held in the August 24 gangrape case, was arrested, along with three others, on January 8 after Mysuru police seized 40 kg sandalwood pieces from a car with Tamil Nadu registration. A senior officer said the seized sandalwood was worth Rs 5.5 lakh. “He was on the (police) radar, but not for crimes against women. He was out on bail,” the officer added.
Before that, in 2019, Bhupathi and an associate, Praveen Kumar, alias Thambi, 20, were accused of stealing sandalwood trees on November 29 and December 1, from the premises of Sandalwood Oil Factory and the forest department, respectively, in Mysuru. In another case registered last year, Bhupathi is accused, along with Praveen, of stealing a sandalwood tree from the home of a Mysuru resident named Chirag Mehta on July 9-10 night.
Bhupathi was linked to the 2019 and 2020 cases after his arrest this January. While he got bail in the latest sandalwood theft and smuggling case on January 30, he was was released on bail in the earlier three cases on February 26 this year.
A vital clue that led to the arrest of Bhupathi and four other suspects from Tamil Nadu on August 28 — four days after the gangrape of a student and assault on her male friend in Lalithadripura near Chamundi Hills road of Mysuru — was a bus ticket for travel between Talavadi in Tamil Nadu and Chamarajnagar, Karnataka. Police sources said the ticket found at the crime scene, the language the suspects spoke in, and cell tower information of Tamil Nadu phones that were in use at the crime spot led police to the suspects.
Bhupathi was a key link in the case, leading to the arrest of four others.
Police sources said Bhupathi and a second person allegedly involved in the gangrape were also involved in the sandalwood theft and smuggling cases. “They would come to Mysuru often, go the banana market. Their recent visit, when the crime was committed, was also to the market,” a source said.
Bhupathi and Praveen Kumar were due to attend a court hearing in connection with the sandalwood theft cases of 2019 and 2020 on August 27 this year.
“The accused are between 17 and 28 years. They have confessed to having committed similar crimes in the past and were confident they would not get caught because of fear of exposure among victims,” a police source said.
“We suspect the accused recorded videos and were blackmailing victims to prevent police reports. The Forensic Science Laboratory team is looking at the mobile phones of the accused,” the source said.
On August 24, the MBA student, who was with her male friend, was attacked by a gang around 7.30 pm. The gang initially demanded Rs 3 lakh to let the duo go and then allegedly attacked them. They raped the woman and fled spot with mobile phones of the victims
Mysuru City Police Commissioner Dr Chandragupta said: “We are continuing interrogation of the accused and we request the public to come forward and report if there was any kind of robbery or molestation that they were subjected to around Chamundi hills, or elsewhere in Mysuru. If there are any, we are ready to provide them protection and maintain confidentiality.”