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May 19, 1999
Vikas Yadav surrenders, yet escapes arrest
Suhasini Haidar in New Delhi
In what is probably the most unusual development in the Jessica Lal murder so far, the last absconding suspect, Vikas Yadav, walked into the Delhi police headquarters and turned himself in today, only to walk out a few hours later without being arrested as he was carrying an anticipatory bail order from an Imphal court.
Yadav was wanted for questioning for his role in accompanying chief suspect Manu Sharma on the night of the murder as well as for allegedly helping him flee Delhi.
While Sharma surrendered to the Delhi police a week after the murder that took place on April 29, and two other alleged accomplices, Tony Gill and Alok Khanna, were also taken into police custody, Yadav evaded the police for almost three weeks.
Yadav, a sugar mill-owner in eastern Uttar Pradesh, is the son of Rajya Sabha member and former state minister D P Yadav, a member of the Janatantrik Bahujan Samaj Party.
Crestfallen, Joint Commissioner of Police (southern range) Amod Kanth said the police had "chosen not to arrest Yadav" as they would have had to grant him bail immediately thereafter. He also said the bail order had to be verified with the Manipur high court, and even hinted that the "man claiming to be Vikas Yadav has to prove that he is in fact the man we want".
Kanth, who has been closely involved with the investigation into the high-profile case, also said it was extremely unusual for a suspect in a criminal case to 'surrender' at the police headquarters and not to the investigating police station (Mehrauli in this case). But, he said, his hands were tied by the order that Yadav had produced. "I hope the public will appreciate our helplessness," Kanth said.
Today's events mean Vikas Yadav is free to move around without being questioned by the police until he chooses to be interrogated. But his defence counsel G K Bharti, who heads a battery of lawyers, said Yadav was "keen to co-operate with the Delhi police, and we will answer any questions they have".
Vikas Yadav told reporters gathered at the police headquarters that he failed to see how he could be charged in the murder of ex-model Jessica Lal. He denied having been present with Sharma during the shooting, but admitted that Sharma had spent that night at his residence.
"I only found out about the [murder] the next morning, when I told Manu to surrender to the police," Yadav claimed.
He revealed that for the last month while police forces had been looking for him, he had been in Bombay, Calcutta, Guwahati and Imphal. He refused to say whether he had been in touch with his father in that period.
While JCP Kanth said he would rather not say much about the case until his investigations were complete, police sources say every stage of the probe has been dogged by a bizarre melange of connections.
"Firstly, everyone knows how powerful Manu Sharma is," said one police officer. "Then, even Bina Ramani couldn't be charged with destruction of evidence. And now Vikas Yadav waltzes in here and walks out scot-free," he lamented.
While Sharma, son of former Union minister of state Venod Sharma and a distant relative of former president Shankar Dayal Sharma, is in police custody now, Ramani, socialite and owner of the Tamarind Court restaurant where the murder took place, has only been charged with operating a bar without proper excise licences, even though police say she and her family ordered bloodstains to be wiped away from the scene of crime.
The next step of the police now will be to try and verify the anticipatory bail order Yadav produced today, which grants him two months of bail as soon as he is arrested. Technically, all the suspects in the case, including Yadav, must be charged in court within 90 days of the crime, ie by the end of July. The next hearing of the case in the metropolitan court at Patiala House is on Thursday.
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