Was Veerappan paid Rs 5 million before he agreed to surrender?
N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras
There is speculation that a Bangalore-based businessman arranged
for Rs 5 million to be paid to sandalwood smuggler Veerappan to release the
eight Karnataka forest officials he has held as hostages since July 12. Though the source of the funds is not clearly known, informed sources claim that
money did change hands before Veerappan offered to surrender earlier this week.
"Probe how his offer -- made through two audio cassettes -- reached
the powers-that-be and you will know a lot," says a source close
to one of those involved in the negotiations. "The money was paid, and Veerappan offered to surrender." He indicates that Veerappan
needed the money to support the families of his gang members after
Some other sources wonder why Veerappan needed the money overnight when he was rumoured to be flush with funds.
"Veerappan was believed to have been in possession of large funds,
collected either as ransom from local stone quarry owners and
farmers, or made through smuggling ivory and sandalwood," says one
source. "There is also a recorded message from Veerappan, addressed
to a Karnataka police officer a couple of years back offering
Rs 250 million and more if the latter could arrange an amnesty
for him. Earlier, he is said to have claimed that he could contest
elections and become a minister on the strength of the money
at his disposal. It just doesn't tally."
Veerappan is believed to have collected
a substantial ransom for the release of four Tamil Nadu officials
in 1994. The figure mentioned then was
Rs 1 million. Though the Jayalalitha-led state government of the
day claimed no money changed hands and the hostages were freed
by a police team -- the claim was almost simultaneously denied by one
of the kidnapped.
The sources, however, agree that Veerappan may be scared of his
captors seizing the money reportedly in his possession and torturing
him to reveal where it has been hidden. "There are
others, particularly politicians from both states, who might want
him silenced so that their connections with him are
not revealed. His fears are genuine and that is why
he has been demanding a public surrender and an amnesty
from the President of India."
In this context, some demoralised police officers from both states,
piqued at the celebrity status conferred on the killer by the two governments, doubt whether the two chief
ministers could keep their current promises to Veerappan.
"They have promised a short term in jail and a speedy trial, implying
to him that he may, after all, be a free bird after a while," says
a former police officer in Tamil Nadu. "But this is not possible in
As he points out, Veerappan has been charged with
killing 130 people, many of them police and forest officers
from the two states. "Even if there is a lack of evidence in some cases,
Veerappan himself has gone on record ininterviews and videotapes that he has killed the victims. What
could be done in these cases, unless the prosecution does not
press the charge, if only to save Veerappan's skin?" asks the
retired police officer.
He sees one way out, and that is to serve the short-term. "Maybe,
given the enormity of the investigation involved, given the various
charges of killings, poaching and violation of
laws against Veerappan's gang, the prosecution may not be
able to file the chargesheet within six months of his arrest
as stipulated in the Criminal Procedure Code. And that may be
a loophole that Veerappan's lawyers may use to demand bail."
Even then, says this official, the President may not
be inclined to pardoning Veerappan or cutting short his sentence,
as is generally believed now. "He is a dangerous criminal
in the eyes of the law. There is no real Robin Hood image around him,
or a community history of crime, as was the case with the Chambal
marauders. To grant him a pardon when he has gone on record as having
killed policemen and forest officials in cold blood, would set an unhealthy precedent."
Sources also claim that Karnataka Chief Minister J H Patel has
kept a low profile because of
the complexity of the issues involved. Asks one source, "What can Patel
or his government do if someone in Karnataka moves the courts
to try Veerappan in that state for offences committed there?
The Karnataka government has agreed not to press for
Veerappan's trial or imprisonment in the state, but in these days
of judicial activism, anything is possible after the eight hostages
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