A series of voice matches from extortion calls made to a Karnataka businessman and calls made to the media following the murder of the businessman proved to be crucial evidence in the sentencing to life imprisonment of notorious gangster Bannanje Raja (53), according to the 791- page judgment issued by a Belagavi trial court.
Bannanje Raja alias BR alias Rajendra Kumar, a gangster from coastal Karnataka who ran a mafia outfit called the BR Company, was involved in over 40 crimes in Karnataka and was extradited from Morocco in 2015 for the December 2013 murder of the Karwar mining businessman RN Nayak . He was killed to life in prison by a trial court last month for murder and organized crime under the Karnataka Control of Organized Crime Act, 2000.
Although there was no condition imposed by Morocco at the time of the gangster’s extradition against imposing capital punishment, the trial court did not venture to consider the death penalty by stating that the Nayak murder was not the rarest of rare crimes.
“In regard to the submission by learned counsel for the accused No. 9 (Bannanje Raja) that this court cannot impose the death penalty…, it is to be noted that Sec.34C of the Extradition Act 1962 is applicable only if the capital punishment is not prescribed by the reciprocating country viz., Morocco,” the trial court observed.
While negating the prosecution’s demand for capital punishment and the defense arguments against the death penalty, the court ruled that “no such condition was imposed by the Kingdom of Morocco” against awarding a death sentence for Bannanje Raja in India.
“Therefore the submission has no merits and is to be rejected. Anyhow this court has come to the conclusion that capital punishment cannot be imposed as the case does not fall in the category of the rarest of the rare case,” the trial court ruled.
The court said that it was convinced about the involvement of Bannanje Raja – who was based in Dubai – in the killing of Nayak by his henchmen in Karnataka after being provided forensic evidence of matches between the voice of the gangster, threat calls made by him to the victim and members of his family, and the calls made to the media claiming the killing.
“This court is convinced by the voices heard by this court from accused No.9 (Bannanje Raja) also after listening to the records produced before this court. The confession statements of other accused are also relevant,” the trial court observed.
The voice matches and confession statements of several of the accused that they were working at the behest of the gangster proved that Bannanje Raja was the head of the mafia outfit involved in the Nayak murder, the court said.
The court said “…evidence on record indisputably connects accused No.9 to calls made to PW.18 and the deceased RN Nayak and also to the interview given to the TV channels. By this, the prosecution has proved that it was accused No.9, who was the kingpin behind the entire incident and he was running the organized crime syndicate called BR Company.
The court has pointed out that soon after the murder Bannanje Raja called up television channels to claim the hit and revealed minute details of the crime like the death of one of his own men in firing by a bodyguard of the businessman during the public shootout.
The court said that “it is evident that the caller (to TV channels) knew that accused No.1 died. Under these circumstances, this court comes to the conclusion that accused No.9 is Bannanje Raja and he had made threatening calls to the deceased RN Nayak as well as PW.18.
One of the key pieces of evidence that the Karnataka police unearthed during the investigation was the money trail involved in the financing of the murder including the supply of the guns used in the murder.
The police probe found that the family of a shooter involved in the murder was paid by a financier for the Bannanje Raja gang after the shooter died during the crime.
Raja and his gang were attempting to extort Rs three crore from the businessman who had ignored the threats of the gangster and sought police protection.
Hired gunmen carried out the killing in Ankola town on December 21, 2013. One of the Bannanje Raja gunmen involved in the shooting, Akash alias Vivek Upadhyay, 27, (accused number 1) was killed by Nayak’s bodyguard in a shootout with the assailant while A second shooter Satish Patel was caught by members of the public while trying to escape.
The police probe found that the murder plot was hatched by an associate of Bannanje Raja who was lodged in a prison in the state at the time.
“There were many money transfers at the instance of accused No.9 (Raja) through accused No.10 (Jagadish Chandra). Money has been transferred to the account of accused No.1 (standing in his father’s name), accused No.7 (Mahesh Achangi), accused No.12 (Ankit Kumar), and accused No.3 (Ambaji) and 4 (Ganesh ) through different people,” the court said.
The police provided technical evidence in the form of CCTV footage from banks, bakeries, and the crime scene, to indicate the movements of the accused during the plotting of the murder and its eventual execution.
“So far as execution of the decision of BR Company is concerned, it was planned by accused No.7. Accused No.1 had expertise in using differents and under his leadership, accused No.2 to 4 joined together and planned and carried out the execution of the crime. The least experienced was accused No.2. Thus, accused Nos.1 & 3 did much of the planning of the execution and committed the crime,” the court observed in its judgment last month.
The trial court pronounced life imprisonment on April 4 for Satish Patel, 27 – one of the shooters, Abhi Ambaji Bandagar, 42, Ganesh Bajantri, 35, KM Ismail, 53, Bannanje Raja, 53, Mahesh Achhangi, 40 and Ankit Kumar, 33 , for murder under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. The accused have also been sentenced to life imprisonment for organized crime.
The RN Nayak murder case was one of the first in Karnataka where the special Karnataka Control of Organized Crime Act, 2000 was invoked by the state police.
The KCOCA law was introduced in the year 2000 as a strong measure to control organised crime on account of clauses in the law on bail, evidence, and culpability which are beneficial to the police in bringing the accused in organised, violent crimes to book.