Ravi Pujari, extradited from Senegal in 2020, acquitted in 2001 Bengaluru builder murder case
Gangster Ravi Pujari, 59, who was extradited from Senegal in February 2020 to stand trial for dozens of crimes in several parts of India, was acquitted by a court in Bengaluru due to lack of evidence in one of the murders the most infamous of the city’s underworld.
Pujari was acquitted of charges of plotting the murder of businessman Subbaraju in Bengaluru on January 5, 2001. Pujari had been accused of plotting the murder in a conspiracy involving mobster Muthappa Rai, who was acquitted in the case in 2004 and died in 2020.
Pujari was also acquitted of charges of supplying the two guns used to shoot Subbaraju to his office in the Seshadripuram area of Bengaluru. Pujari was accused of sending the weapons used in Subbaraju’s murder in a gift box with the help of mobster Guru Satam, who was not arrested in connection with the case.
The murder of Subbaraju, a bricklayer, rocked Bengaluru in 2001. Two gunmen burst into his office and shot him dead in the presence of his two sons.
Investigations had revealed that Subbaraju was involved in a dispute with a rival, KL Swamy, over the purchase of a prime property measuring 1,40,000 square feet on Cunningham Road in the central business district of Bengaluru.
Muthappa Rai, who was in Dubai at the time, reportedly intervened in the dispute and demanded that Subbaraju back out of the deal. When Subbaraju did not back down, a plot was allegedly hatched by Rai along with Pujari and Guru Satam – who were both part of the Chhota Rajan gang in Mumbai – to kill the builder.
Two shooters, Yusuf Bachkana and Nitin Sawant, allegedly traveled from Mumbai to carry out the murder with the help of three local accomplices who monitored Subbaraju’s movements.
During their investigation, Bengaluru police arrested Rai (he was extradited from Dubai in 2001), the two hired gunmen and the local conspirators in the case – Syed Babu, Arif Pasha and Santhosh Kumar.
On April 13, 2004, a Bengaluru Magistrate’s Court sentenced one of the shooters, Bachkana, to life imprisonment. Sawant, the other alleged gunman, was acquitted by the magistrates’ court but died in September 2014 during an encounter with Mumbai police.
The trial court also acquitted Rai, Babu, Pasha and Kumar in the case for lack of evidence.
The Karnataka High Court in 2004 upheld the acquittals, but arrested the Karnataka Police for lack of effective oversight of their investigations by senior officers. The court suggested this was a reason why the evidence was not presented effectively in court, leading to the acquittals.
The case against Pujari and Satam, however, was pending in police files as the two were still at large.
In February 2020, following Pujari’s extradition from Senegal, a split indictment was filed against him, while the case against Satam was split.
Pujari argued that he could not stand trial in the Subbaraju murder case since he was extradited from Senegal specifically to stand trial in the 2007 Shabnam Developers shooting case in Bangalore, where two employees of the real estate company were killed by hired gunmen linked to Pujari.
Last week, August 18, the trial court acquitted Pujari in the Subbaraju murder case, saying there was no evidence to ‘prove beyond reasonable doubt’ that he had conspired with others to send Bachkana and Sawant to shoot the builder.
The court also said there was no evidence to show that, as part of the conspiracy, Pujari and Satam “sent a .9mm pistol, a .38 revolver and live ammunition in a gift package. via Hawala” to Bachkana and Sawant which were in Bengaluru.
The court observed that the police only produced a statement made by Pujari after his 2020 extradition as new evidence in the case, which is inadmissible in court.
Pujari is currently on trial in connection with the February 15, 2007 shooting of two office workers of Shabnam Developers, a property company in South Bengaluru, whose owner KS Samiullah, a local businessman and politician, resisted Pujari’s alleged extortion bid.
While Pujari was extradited mainly in connection with this case, there are 96 other extortion cases against him in Karnataka, including 39 in Bangalore and 36 in Mangaluru. There are also dozens of cases in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Kerala and other states.
Pujari had been using the identity of Antony Fernandes, a Burkina Faso national and businessman, when he was tracked down in Senegal in January 2019 by Indian agencies.
He was eventually located and detained in a hair salon in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, by local police. Senegal’s Ministry of Interior notified Indian authorities on January 21, 2019 of the detention.
In the absence of a bilateral extradition treaty with Senegal, the Indian government sought Pujari’s extradition under the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, adopted in 2000 as “the principal international instrument of fight against transnational organized crime”.
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Shifting from a modus operandi of primarily targeting businessmen with extortion demands, Pujari reportedly targeted 10 Karnataka politicians between 2015 and 2018, which pressured Karnataka police to get Pujari to book .
Politicians targeted by Pujari in the run-up to Karnataka police launching a serious effort to track down the mobster in July 2018 were Congress leaders UT Khader, Abhaychandra Jain and Ramanath Rai in 2015; SM Revanna in 2016; DK Suresh in 2017; Tanvir Sait, CM Ibrahim and Anil Lad in 2018, and Janata Dal (lay) leaders SR Mahesh and CB Suresh Babu in 2017.