One of the promises that DMK chief MK Stalin made in the run-up to the Tamil Nadu Assembly polls last year was that he would get to the bottom of the Kodanad estate heist of 2017, and a murder and mysterious deaths allegedly linked to it. After becoming the chief minister, Stalin stuck to his guns despite protests by the AIADMK and told the Assembly that “the heist, murder, and a number of deaths that followed the incident raised several doubts in the mind of the public”. He said his promise to bring all the culprits to justice had “no political agenda”.
But, 14 months down the line a Special Investigation Team (SIT) probe into the case has hardly made any progress and is effectively stuck.
The heist and murder received public attention as it happened at the former CM’s vacation home months after her death. According to the police chargesheet, in the early hours of April 4, 2017, an armed gang of 11 people led by Jayalalithaa’s former driver C Kanagaraj entered the estate with the aim of robbing crores of rupees stashed in the house. Investigators said they attacked and sedated security guard Krishna Thapa, and tied him up in a lorry. While two men guarded Thapa, the rest went to another gate and attacked and killed Om Bahadur, another security guard.
Soon afterwards, Kanagaraj, the first accused in the case, was identified and lookout notices were issued. Kanagaraj hailed from Edappadi that is the hometown of former CM and AIADMK leader Edappadi K Palaniswami, or EPS as he is better known. The accused was killed in a road accident on the Salem-Chennai Highway five days after the robbery.
Apart from Kanagaraj, the other accused were from Kerala. The same day the driver was killed in the accident, Sayan from Thrissur, another accused, met with an accident near Palakkad. His car rammed into a parked lorry and while he survived, his wife and daughter did not. A 29-year-old computer operator who worked at the estate, Dinesh Kumar, was found dead in his home in Kotagiri in July that year. The police ruled it a suicide. Meanwhile, Krishna Bahadur returned to Nepal, his home country, and is missing now.
The case fell below the radar after that but blew up again in January 2019 when Sayan organised a press meeting at the Delhi Press Club and alleged that Kanagaraj had led the heist and told him that it was being conducted at the behest of EPS who was the CM at the moment. He alleged that the instruction was to loot cash bundles and documents of land worth crores. The police claimed that two wristwatches and a crystal doll went missing during the robbery.
EPS has dismissed the allegations and after the DMK reopened the inquiry last year he accused Stalin of attempting to divert people’s attention from the failures of his government. Last August, the AIADMK leader said, “The Kodanad case investigation reached its conclusion and the Ooty Sessions Court mandated that all the accused should appear before it on August 27. Recording the statement of accused Sayan at this stage is an attempt to incriminate me and other AIADMK leaders in this case. The accused in the case are also receiving bail assistance from DMK-affiliated lawyers.”
Inspector General (West Zone) R Sudhakar who is heading the SIT probing the case refused to comment on the inquiry. Another official in the team said many crucial leads came to a nought after Kanagaraj’s death.
“The initial leads attributed mystery to Kanagaraj’s death too. There were several inputs such as he was being chased by the police as well as another gang on the day he died, that his refusal to hand over the looted items and attempts to bargain more money led to the chase. Though any mystery in the accident was ruled out, information about a gang that had chased him to death wasn’t probed properly by the police owing to political reasons,” said a senior official with information about the investigation.
The official claimed that the previous AIADMK government led by EPS and a section of officers who are still in service were indifferent to key evidence. “Statements indicating that the target was not only money but also computer hard disks and documents wasn’t probed effectively.”
Sources in the SIT said Jayalalithaa’s aide Sasikala was questioned this April for two days not because she had any knowledge of the robbery but because she played a crucial role in the estate’s operations for many years. During this past weekend, the police questioned Marudhu Alaguraj, the former editor of AIADMK mouthpiece Namathu Amma. In recent months, they have also quizzed, among others, Gunasekharan, a former driver of Jayalalithaa who worked along with Kanagaraj; and former AIADMK MLA VC Arukutty.
Former state minister R Vaithilingam of the AIADMK said every party worker was waiting for the SIT to complete its probe. “The DMK government should speed up the probe and find culprits at the earliest. We will wait for the next two to three months for the outcome of this ongoing probe. If there is no outcome, we will take it up,” said Vaithilingam, who is among the handful of leaders who joined the rebel AIADMK faction led by O Panneerselvam against EPS.
DMK leaders refused to comment on the matter as the probe is still in progress.