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Ransom riddle in bandit tale

Bangalore, Dec. 18: The claim of an H. Nagappa supporter about Veerappan’s intention has added to the mystery of the former Karnataka minister’s abduction and death, reports our special correspondent.

Puttaswamy, a panchayat member in Kollegal taluka and a local Janata Dal (U) leader, said Veerappan wanted Kolathur Mani as a hostage negotiator to settle personal scores with the Tamil nationalist.

He was speaking to reporters in Kollegal this morning. Puttaswamy said he had met Veerappan twice in the forests during the hostage crisis.

The forest bandit’s main objective was to talk with Mani about the “misappropriation” of part of the ransom he (Veerappan) had collected two years ago to release Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar.

According to Puttaswamy, Veerappan had given some of the ransom to Mani to distribute among “villagers who had suffered atrocities at the hands of the special task forces of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu police”. The bandit had heard that the money was not properly given out.

Puttaswamy said he came to know about this when he went to Veerappan’s hideout twice, along with Ponnachi Mahadevaswamy, a JD (U) leader in Kollegal.

Mahadevaswamy’s meeting with Veerappan is recorded in the diary Nagappa maintained during his captivity. His family had located the diary from the Chengadi forests, where he was found dead. The diary records Mahadevaswamy met Nagappa and Veerappan on October 5, almost 40 days after the abduction.

Puttaswamy said he and Mahadevaswamy had discussed terms for Nagappa’s release, unofficially though.

It was during this discussion that Veerappan said his objective was to know what Mani had done with the Rs 10 crore he was given. Veerappan had apparently managed to communicate his doubts to Mani.

Veerappan, however, was dissatisfied with Mani’s explanation that Kempaiah, inspector-general of police and former Karnataka STF chief, had confiscated all the money.

Puttaswamy is from a Maratahalli village on the border of Kadumbar forest, where Veerappan was said to be hiding for over a month during the Nagappa abduction crisis.

To prop up his claim of having met Veerappan, Puttaswamy presented details of the bandit’s gang. It has only five members now, including Veerappan, he said.

Puttaswamy said he had identified Sethukuli Govindan, the second-in-command, and Chandra Gounder, an “educated gangster”.

“Veerappan and Govindan had AK-47 rifles, and Gounder carried an SLR,” Puttaswamy said.

He repeated his leader P.G.R. Sindhia’s claim that Nagappa was killed in STF action and not by Veerappan.

Sindhia had said that he had information about STF commandos entering the forest disguised as Lord Ayyappa devotees and failing in the operation to save Nagappa.

While Puttaswamy’s press conference fanned fresh rumours in and around Kollegal, the chiefs of the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu STFs met at MM Hills, beyond Chamaraj Nagar.

New strategies to strike at Veerappan were apparently discussed at the meeting.

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