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Tejpal charges carry 7-year jail to life term

Mumbai, Feb. 17: Goa police have charged Tehelka founder-editor Tarun Tejpal with rape under the new anti-rape law, which stipulates the trial be completed within 60 days.

The case is likely to be committed to a fast-track judge within the next seven to 10 days, after which the trial date would be announced, police sources said. If convicted, Tejpal can be handed a jail sentence between seven years and life.

He will be tried not just for alleged rape but also on charges of sexually harassing and outraging the modesty of a junior colleague during a Tehelka-organised conference at a Goa hotel on November 7 and 8 last year. This is the first ever chargesheet filed under the new law in a sexual assault case.

Investigating officer Sunita Sawant today filed a 2,846-page chargesheet in the court of judge Anita Prabhudesai, judicial magistrate first class.

“It’s a watertight chargesheet, filed in 78 days’ time,” Goa deputy inspector-general of police O.P. Mishra told The Telegraph.

“Our special public prosecutor will request the trial court to complete the trial in 60 days after the proceedings start. We will seek daily hearings.”

Among the key pieces of evidence the chargesheet cites are Tejpal’s purported emails to the complainant, her complaint, and CCTV footage from the hotel lift where the alleged crime took place.

The police will try to prove that Tejpal “admitted to the commission of rape” in emails to the complainant, a female journalist who was his employee and a friend of his daughter.

According to the chargesheet, the alleged rape by “a person whom she trusted as a fatherly figure and respected as a senior colleague” has caused “serious psychological injury to the dignity, self-esteem and overall personality of the journalist”.

The offence of sexual assault by a person in a position of authority is a new addition, brought in by the new law, enacted after the Delhi bus gang rape of December 16, 2012. It has widened the definition of rape and raised punishments for sex crimes.

The chargesheet alleges that Tejpal tried to dodge the police for several days after the FIR was lodged on November 22.

When a Goa police team arrived in Delhi to arrest him, Tejpal went into hiding while awaiting a Delhi High Court decision on interim relief. He then withdrew his high court plea and applied for anticipatory bail in a Goa court. He was eventually arrested on November 30 when the court refused his plea.

Book plan

Marking time in Goa jails in police and judicial custody since then, Tejpal is keen on writing a book about his experience in jail after the trial ends, a member of the defence team told this newspaper.

“He has been keenly observing the other inmates, striking up conversations with them and collecting material,” the source said.

At the Sada sub-jail in Vasco, Tejpal shares his cell with four others who face trial on robbery, assault and abduction charges. He spends his time reading books and writing letters, jail sources said.

“His family visits him quite often and supplies him with stationery. His wife Geetan sends him letters when she does not visit him,” the defence team member said.

“His entire family, including his parents, are now living in his palatial Goa home. His daughters often attend social gatherings and events here.”

The complainant and Sawant, the investigating officer, have more than once accused Tejpal of intimidating and threatening them.

While Sawant complained to the courts, the young journalist has lodged two separate police complaints. One of them alleges pressure from Tejpal’s family on hers to withdraw the case and the other accuses an “unknown person” of circulating anonymous emails with her private pictures to “intimidate and slander” her.

The Goa police have since filed a case against the “unknown” sender of the email for revealing the complainant’s identity.

Bail hearing

Tejpal has repeatedly been denied bail, including once for alleged intimidation. His next bail application comes up tomorrow in the court of Justice Mrinalini Bhatkar of the Goa bench of Bombay High Court.

Today, the judge accepted Tejpal’s request to be allowed a personal appearance in the court during his bail hearing.

“Now that the investigation is complete and the chargesheet has been submitted to court, there should be no problem for Tejpal in getting bail. We hope the courts grant us the relief soon,” Tejpal’s counsel Geeta Luthra said.

Tejpal has been charged under the Indian Penal Code’s sections 354A (sexual harassment through physical contact or advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures; or demand or request for sexual favours; or making sexually coloured remarks), 376 (rape), 376(2)(k) (rape by a person in a position of control or dominance over the woman), 376(2)(f) (rape by a person in a position of trust or authority), 341 (wrongful restraint) and 342 (wrongful confinement).

Apart from the 132-page main chargesheet, there are 30 pages of depositions and 2,684 pages of annexure papers. Statements from 152 witnesses have been included.

“Our teams travelled to Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad, and we got great professional support from the police in these cities,” Mishra, the DIG, said.

De Niro

One of the complainant’s assignments at the conference was to escort Hollywood actor Robert De Niro and his daughter to events.

On January 7, the Goa police had contacted De Niro through his attorney, who had assured full cooperation. On January 21, the police issued a reminder to De Niro after he failed to reply to a set of questions related to the alleged sexual assault.

The attorney then informed the police that De Niro was in California and would reply after returning to New York. The police are still waiting.