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Judicial CP - May 2004

Corpun file 13413

Straits Times, Singapore, 25 May 2004

Man who kidnapped journalist gets life term, 24 strokes

By Selina Lum

SELVARAJU Satippan, 45, who was found guilty of kidnapping a 22-year-old woman by the High Court yesterday, was sentenced to life imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane.

A narrow escape from the gallows for Selvaraju (above) who had kidnapped Ms Varghese.

The lorry driver could have been given the death penalty.

Selvaraju had been accused of holding MediaCorp journalist Nina Elizabeth Varghese for ransom, setting fire to clothes in her wardrobe, hurting her forearm with a kitchen knife and attempting to murder her.

During the five-day trial, the court heard that on the morning of Aug 7 last year, he tied up Ms Varghese's hands with electrical wire and held her for 3 hours before she escaped through a bathroom window.

Her 34-year-old Sri Lankan maid, who was in the house at the time, told the court that he had also threatened and detained her.

In his defence, Selvaraju claimed that he had gone to Ms Varghese's house off Braddell Road to collect a debt owed to him by her father.

He said he had invested $50,000 in November 1998 with Mr Roy Abraham Varghese, a financial adviser, who promised him returns of $5,000 a month.

Yesterday, Justice Tay Yong Kwang rejected the story about the 'investment deal'.

'I have no doubt that there was no such agreement and that the accused was, until Aug 7, 2003, a total stranger to the Varghese family.

'There was therefore no debt of any sort owed by Mr Varghese to the accused.'

Justice Tay added: 'In law, even if such a debt existed, that would not exonerate the accused charged under the Kidnapping Act.'

Selvaraju's lawyers had argued that his asking for his money back could not be characterised as demanding a 'ransom'.

Calling the story 'inherently incredible', Deputy Public Prosecutor Cheng Howe Ming said that even if the money demanded was actually owed to the kidnapper, it was still defined as ransom.

The court also heard a statement by Ms Varghese, a television journalist who packages news stories for broadcast, yesterday.

She described how the events of Aug 7 last year had caused her much anxiety, distress and fear.

She had gone for five counselling sessions for the nightmares and fears she was experiencing, she said, and now lived 'in a perpetual state of hyper-vigilance'.

'Whenever I enter my own home, I search behind doors to make sure that no one is lurking there. I still memorise licence plate numbers of seemingly suspicious vehicles in my neighbourhood.

'When I look at the scar on my forearm, I wonder if I will ever feel safe again.

'I wonder when I will have the courage to live alone, given this trauma. As a young woman, not yet 23, I expect I will bear the physical and psychological scars of this event for many years.'

One of Selvaraju's lawyers, Mr Tey Tsun Hang, said he empathised with what Ms Varghese and her maid must have felt during those 'explosive few hours'.

However, he asked the court to spare Selvaraju from the gallows. Ms Varghese was not seriously hurt, the incident lasted only a few hours, and Selvaraju gained nothing, he said.

A life sentence with caning is 'more than ample and adequate punishment', he added.

He said that Selvaraju, who just stared ahead impassively as the sentence was read out, was remorseful for the anguish and fear he had caused the Varghese family.

Another of Selvaraju's lawyers, Mr Mohan Das Naidu, told reporters that he would not advise his client to appeal.

'It's a fair verdict. We tried our best. It's good that he did not have to go to the gallows.'

Ms Varghese's parents were in court for the verdict, although she did not attend.

Her mother, Mrs Susheela Varghese, an associate professor with the Singapore Management University, declined to comment.

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