|Tehelka managing editor Shoma Chaudhury arrives at her office in New Delhi on Saturday. She was questioned by a Goa police team from 4.45pm on Saturday till around 2am on Sunday. (PTI)
Panaji, Nov. 24: A preliminary scan of CCTV footage outside the hotel elevator where Tarun Tejpal is alleged to have assaulted a subordinate has brought under stress the “recused” chief editor’s claim of an “incredibly fleeting” consensual encounter.
“On November 7, the journalist and Tejpal are seen going into the elevator at 12.15am and coming out at 12.30am. The girl rushes out and then Tejpal follows her out,” said a source in Goa police who did not want to be named because the investigation is ongoing and he is not authorised to speak to the media.
If the final analysis confirms the preliminary assessment, it will mean that the footage corroborates two key factors in the girl’s version and contests the account by Tejpal in a text message sent on Friday to his friends.
Tejpal had sought to punch holes in the girl’s version by drawing attention — with an exclamation mark — to the relatively low height of the hotel building to insist that it was a fleeting encounter.
“The truth is it was an incredibly fleeting, totally consensual encounter of less than a minute in a lift (of a two-storey building!),” Tejpal’s text message had said, although an email from a “Tarun” had conceded that he had attempted a “sexual liaison” despite her “clear reluctance”.
The girl said the block has three floors (ground, first and second floors) but Tejpal had managed to keep the elevator running up and down. “I then realised that Mr Tejpal was simply pressing buttons on the lift’s panel to make the elevator stay in circuit, preventing it from stopping anywhere…,” according to an email attributed to the girl and sent to Tehelka managing editor Shoma Chaudhury.
Tejpal had said the CCTV “footage will clear everything”.
However, if the footage indeed shows elevator entry at 12.15am and exit at 12.30am, the one-minute theory will not stand. The 15-minute gap will lend weight to the girl’s version that Tejpal kept the elevator in circuit.
Footage from the following day, November 8, also appears to corroborate the girl’s account.
The Goa police source said: “On November 8, at 8.53pm, Tejpal is seen taking the girl into the elevator, holding her hand. They come out after seven minutes. This time, too, the girl rushes out with Tejpal following. She walks fast up to a woman and talks to her for 10 minutes while Tejpal walks past. She then moves away too.”
The email attributed to the girl had said: “I was scared of getting into the lift with him again…. By this time he was holding me by the wrist and had taken me into the lift.”
Goa police have also taken a brown briefcase, said to belong to Tejpal and containing some pictures, from the Tehelka office in Delhi.
O.P. Mishra, the deputy inspector-general of police, declined to speak more on the briefcase. “The investigation is at a crucial stage and too many details will hamper the case,” he told a media conference at Panaji.
Colleagues to be witnesses
Three colleagues of the girl, in whom she had confided right after the alleged assault, have agreed to be prime witnesses in the case and their version has matched that of the girl, according to Mishra and other sources.
“The statements of five employees of Tehelka have been recorded today. The three journalists have agreed to be our prime witnesses in the case. Their statements match exactly with the victim’s complaint letter to managing editor Chaudhury,” said Mishra.
The three were interviewed by the police at Goa Bhavan in New Delhi. “They were first examined separately and then together — every time their versions matched that of the girl. They have also deposited the mobile phone from which the girl called a close friend to report the matter,” said a police source.
At least two of the three have resigned or are close to resigning from Tehelka.
The two other employees quizzed are managing editor Chaudhury and a person from whose phone Tejpal allegedly made a call to the girl after the incident.
Chaudhury, who was questioned for over nine hours till around 2am on Sunday, said: “It was an extremely courteous experience and I fully cooperated and showed every document that was relevant, every email exchange that was there between my colleagues, the management… it was shared.” Chaudhury further said: “It was a good experience and I hope it helps bring clarity and justice to the entire case.”
Goa police officers were not so effusive. The police team, which has left Delhi for Mumbai, may return to Delhi on Tuesday and question Chaudhury again if needed.
“In Mumbai, our team plans to talk to the girl and record her statement, if possible, and by tomorrow,” an officer said. In Delhi, a friend said she had agreed to give a statement and was also willing to appear before a magistrate.
The Tejpal timing
Sources said a statement from the girl would be instrumental in deciding the future course of the police probe on Tejpal. “We have not established contact with Tejpal yet,” DIG Mishra said. “We will proceed as per the standard protocol followed in such cases.”
Investigators typically like collecting all possible pieces of prima facie evidence — documents, witness accounts, emails, data stored on hard drives and visual evidence related to the crime — before quizzing the accused. The protocol is followed to sharpen the questions and extract either a confession or contradictory statements.
“Our first concern is to make a watertight case. We need to record the statements of the victim and some key witnesses to build a strong case,” Mishra added.
Rajan Karanjawala, Tejpal’s lawyer, said Goa police had so far not communicated with him.
A source close to Tejpal’s legal team said it was contemplating whether to approach a court seeking the transfer of the case from Goa, ruled by the BJP which has been a regular target of Tehelka’s investigations.
But, the source said in the afternoon, no decision has been taken yet. “That’s a decision we will take when Goa police approach us after recording the complainant’s statement,” the source said.