BENGALURU: In a major breakthrough in the killing of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh, the Special Investigation Team probing the murder took into custody 38-year-old Naveen Kumar T on Friday for allegedly taking the killer to the spot on his motorcycle.
A city sessions court later in the evening remanded Naveen Kumar T alias Hotte Manja, a resident of Maddur, Mandya district, and founder of a splinter unit of the Hindu Yuva Sena, to eight days in SIT custody.
The arrest came hours after some TOIeditions reported that SIT suspects Naveen of ferrying the killer on the night of September 5, 2017, to Gauri’s house in Rajarajeshwari Nagar, southwest Bengaluru. SIT deputy chief M N Anucheth confirmed the arrest. “Since he’s a suspect, we’ve taken him into custody,” he said.
Naveen had been picked up last week from the KSRTC bus stand in Majestic area of Bengaluru with a.32-calibre gun and 15 live bullets. He was in the custody of Jnanabharathi police, when SIT sleuths found out that he had bragged to his friend that he had been involved in the Gauri murder.
After questioning Naveen over the past few days, SIT sleuths on Friday decided to take him into custody and approached the sessions court on Friday seeking his custody. SIT officials suspect Gauri’s killer belonged to the same group that was involved in the murders of scholar M M Kalburgi, CPI leader Govind Pansare in Kolhapur in 2015 and rationalist Narendra Dabholkar in Pune in 2013.
They have said ballistics examination confirmed that the same weapon was used in all four killings. Sources in the SIT said they’re yet to conclusively establish that Naveen drove the killer on the bike. “He resembled the man who conducted a recce on September 3 and the morning of September 5.
“We had the footage from near Gauri’s house on those two days showing the biker on what appears to be a recce. Naveen’s posture on a bike resembles the man in the footage. We’re waiting for forensic confirmation that the recreated images of Naveen riding the bike matches the man in the CCTV footage,” the sources explained. “We have enough evidence to establish his presence in RR Nagar on September 3 and 5,” the source said.
“Naveen vanished for 15 days and surfaced later. He boasted to a friend that he had been involved in a big job. Naveen also asked the friend whether he was watching TV news and the latter asked him whether it was the Gauri murder. Naveen laughed it away but the friend tipped us off about it,” the sources added. “Naveen admits only to harbouring four individuals from a right-wing organization. We have drawn their sketches based on his description. We are sure one of them, a man with a receding hairline killed Gauri,” SIT sources said.
SIT sources said they tracked calls between Mangaluru and Goa last week and inputs from some of them confirmed Naveen’s involvement. Naveen has reportedly confessed to arranging a target practice for the four men in July 2017. The four men, sources in the SIT claim, are from a rightwing organization based outside Karnataka.
In his statement to the police, Naveen said a friend from Mangaluru had requested him to arrange the training camp. He was told it was “for a big mission”. The four men met Naveen at his residence in Maddur in mid-July. “They came in a Maruti Omni,” sources said. “After picking up Naveen, the five men travelled in the same vehicle to a forest between Kollegal and Chamarajanagar.” SIT sources said a man from Mysuru had filed a statement with a Bengaluru magistrate claiming that he too was part of the camp.
Sources claim Naveen had roped in the local man to help with the camp.