Help us find justice for
Dr. Asha Goel
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Mike Roberts, The Province
Published: Wednesday, March 07, 2007
In "pursuit of justice," Vancouver businessman Sanjay Goel returned again to Mumbai last week, his 18th trip to India since his mother was "brutally and heinously murdered" there in August 2003.
Dr. Asha Goel, a 62-year-old Canadian obstetrician from Orangeville, Ont., was stabbed, bludgeoned and smothered to death at her family's ancestral home on the Arabian Sea, where she spent much of her youth.
Her two brothers, Suresh and Subhash Agrawal, allegedly plotted the murder over a disputed inheritance worth as much as $12 million.
Suresh has since died of kidney failure, but Subhash -- granted Canadian citizenship two years after the murder -- remains at large in Ottawa.
He denies the allegations, which he has described in Indian court documents as "a vilification campaign."
A 57-year-old businessman, Subhash is listed as a "wanted accused" in an Indian arrest warrant.
He is also the subject of an Interpol Red Notice, a priority "wanted" posting recognized internationally as a valid request for the arrest of a fugitive for the purposes of extradition.
But Subhash has never been arrested, or even investigated, by Canadian authorities.
And India's request that Canadian authorities launch an investigation -- filed last November under its Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) with Canada -- was returned as deficient.
"The Indians are asking us for help," fumes Goel, president of the Vancouver-based holiday company, Cruise Connections Canada.
"Why are we getting tied up on technicalities? There's been an arrest warrant, it's been processed through Interpol, it has resulted in Red Notice, which has been received by the Department of Justice in Canada. . . why has it not been acted upon?"
It's one of many questions Goel is asking -- of both Canada and India -- as he struggles with the bureaucracy of Canada's international extradition process.
Dr. Asha Goel spent her teen years in Mumbai where she graduated from medical college before emigrating to Canada.
She practised in Saskatchewan and Ontario for 40 years before becoming chief obstetrician at the Headwaters Health Centre in Orangeville.
"She was Canadian, she was a proud Canadian," says her heartbroken son, during an interview before his most recent trip to Mumbai.
"She was a defender of the health-care system. She was an advocate for women and women's help. She delivered over 10,000 Canadian children and brought them into this world, children who then went on to have lives and children of their own."
Following his sister's wedding in Ontario in late July 2003, Sanjay and his mother travelled together to India. She wanted to visit her brother Suresh, whose health was rapidly deteriorating, before he died.
On the night of Aug. 16, Sanjay went with his mother to Suresh's residence, the Agrawal family home comprising the entire 14th floor of an apartment block in exclusive Malabar Hill.
Dr. Goel ended up arguing with Suresh over his plan to split their father's legacy -- including the $4 million ancestral home -- with brother Subhash, while denying a share to the youngest brother, Shekhar, a U.S. resident.
The older brothers claimed the youngest got his share in advance, as an investment in his business. The battle had been playing out in the Indian courts for 10 years.
Dr. Goel was attempting to broker a peace, her son insists, and raised the spectre of the Agrawal sisters tossing out Indian custom in favour of Indian law, which recognizes both sons and daughters as rightful heirs.
"My mother eventually came to a point where she said, 'Look, unless you three boys are going to act like family, we four sisters are going to come in and demand our share. So instead of one-third, you're going to get one-seventh,'" explains Goel, 42.
"She was in the way. With her murder, for lack of a better description, the other sisters would go quiet."
Goel and his mother left that night believing Suresh would sort things out with Subhash.
In defence of the conspiracy allegations, Subhash filed a statement with the Indian High Court to explain that Suresh phoned him in Canada that night to express his "anguish and despair" over the meeting.
Over the next few days, Dr. Goel and Suresh made up over the phone, says her son, who returned to Canada ahead of his mother.
"On the 21st, Suresh called my mother to persuade her to spend the last night in India before she left," he says.
His mother agreed, and on Aug. 22nd, returned to Suresh's home.
She had dinner with family and retired around 11 p.m.
Early the next morning she was found in her bedroom, beaten to death.
Suresh, says Goel, maintained the death was a suicide.
Indian police believe the four hired killers intended to smother Dr. Goel, making it appear as though she'd died in her sleep.
The custom within Hinduism is to cremate human remains almost immediately after death. No one would have been the wiser, Goel says, if his mother had not struggled with her assailants.
"The instruments that were used to murder my mother are a vegetable paring knife, a vegetable peeler, two pieces of
solid granite baseboard, as well as a pillow," says Goel, with studied detachment.
"She had a broken jaw, she was blinded, massive head injury, her spleen was ruptured, her ribs were cracked."
A month after the murder, a suspect was arrested, but the case was inexplicably dropped.
Outraged, Goel pressed Indian authorities and the file was transferred to the elite Mumbai Crime Branch in Jan. 2004.
In Sept. 2005, that unit extracted a confession from Pradeep Parab, who fingered Suresh -- who died in Nov. 2003 -- as the mastermind.
Parab eventually identified his co-conspirators, and on Dec. 29, 2005, police arrested three other men -- P. K. Goenka, M. Shinde and Narenda Goel (no relation to the victim).
Parab, Goenka and Shinde were all one-time employees of either Suresh or Subhash, claims Goel. Narenda Goel, who allegedly co-ordinated the killing, is Suresh's son-in-law.
The charge sheet also listed Subhash Agrawal as a "wanted accused."
Mumbai Crime Branch Insp. Jaywald Hargude alleged in Indian court that Suresh and Subhash hatched an international conspiracy to use the four accused men to kill Dr. Goel over the inheritance.
"For a long time, our entire family rejected that notion because we couldn't believe, in any way, that a brother could kill a sister," says Goel, from his sixth-floor offices overlooking Stanley Park.
"It was just outside of the realm of possibility."
Eventually, he says, the family began to question the disturbing circumstances surrounding Asha Goel's death.
"This has broken the family, this has destroyed the family," says an emotional Goel.
"It's not about a function of being embarrassing, it's a function of doubting your own self. I wanted to get a blood transfusion. I said to my own father, 'How do I get this blood out of my veins?'"
In November, the High Court of Mumbai ordered laundered clothing belonging to the four accused sent to Canada for specialized forensic testing after Indian labs failed to extract DNA .
Insp. Hargude delivered the items, seized three years earlier, to the Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto.
"It was an enlightened decision and from what we've been told, it's the first time in India's history," says Goel, at last encouraged by some movement in the languishing case.
Initial forensic testing has been successful. The CFS extracted DNA samples from the clothing of Parab and Goenka. There is only a one-in-10-billion chance those samples belong to anyone but Dr. Asha Goel.
A second round of testing is now underway.
Insp. Hargude was in Canada for five weeks, and met informally with Sgt. Ken Doyle of the Ottawa Police Department, which cannot offer active assistance in the case until Ottawa signs off on a new MLAT request from India, which has yet to arrive.
Sarita Agrawal, wife of Subhash, says Insp. Hargude did not meet with her husband during his stay in Canada.
"For three years we are going through hell," she says. "There is no evidence against my husband."
The fugitive's wife says her husband is the victim of a conspiracy built around "corruption and bribes" in "third world" India.
"There's no truth in it; it's all made up stories," she says, in a tear-filled telephone interview.
She says her family is being harassed and has contacted Canadian authorities.
"The police are saying they want to interrogate my husband," says Sarita, adding that Subhash was in India for a month after the murder and left without any problems.
She says Subhash, who has kidney disease, will meet willingly with Indian or Canadian authorities in Canada.
"We said, 'Okay, you can come here, we are ready for anything, video, anything,'" she says.
"But they want custodial interrogation. We cannot. They want to arrest my husband, beat him in India."
Sarita suggests Dr. Goel was the victim of common robbery.
She says relations between the Goels and Agrawals were "cordial" prior to the murder. Subhash, she says, is under "psychiatric treatment" for stress.
"These people are after us like mad," she says of the Goels.
"It's a hell of a time, they have spoiled our life. This is boggling."
"We want the truth, that's all we want," says Goel, who has been told repeatedly by Canadian authorities that the murder is an Indian matter.
"We fail to understand why the (Canadian) government would not be wanting to take a more active role in this case," he maintains.
He says he's baffled that Canadian authorities have failed to act against an alleged conspiracy by one Canadian against another.
Goel would also like to know how his uncle Subhash was granted Canadian citizenship in July 2005 when Canadian authorities knew he was under investigation in the death of his sister.
But ultimately, he adds, the family is puzzled by the "distinct difference in reaction" to the case of Dominic and Nancy Ianiero, a Canadian couple murdered in Mexico.
"Within days there were RCMP members onsite working with the Mexican officials," says Goel.
"And it's sad to me when I'm told by Canadian officials this is an Indian problem. I feel that in this country that I'm not a Canadian and in India I'm being told I'm not an Indian. That hurts verymuch."
Neither the Department of Justice nor DFAIT would comment on the case.
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HOW YOU CAN HELP
The Goel family has set up a website (www.ashagoel.ca) to gather support in their campaign to put pressure on the Indian and Canadian governments.
There is an e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org) for tips and leads and an online petition that has already garnered 4,000 signatures.
The family is offering a reward of one million Indian rupees (about $27,000 Cdn.) for information leading to a conviction.
Canadian police say the murder is an Indian matter, though Indian police allege the conspiracy was hatched in Canada.