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Dr. Asha Goel

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$5-million feud kills family peacemaker

 

Sister slain trying to end inheritance battle

 

Friday, March 17,2006

JONATHAN WOODWARD

 

She always believed her brothers would rise above a bitter feud over the $5-million left by their father. But as the rift deepened, Canadian obstetrician Asha Goel travelled to India to persuade her brothers to share the inheritance -- and behave like a family.Only days after she confronted one brother, her battered body was found in his apartment in Mumbai. Since then, her husband, son and son-in-law have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in a two-year fight to bring her killers to justice.In October, they got some good news: Indian police named three men they believe conspired with that brother, Suresh Agrawal, to kill Dr. Goel. And now the lead investigator in the case has named in Indian court another man they say was involved in the plot to kill her: her brother, Subhash, who currently lives in Ottawa."It's extraordinary," said Dr. Goel's son, Sanjay, 40, who lives in Vancouver.

 

"It's like a movie."According to court documents, police allege that Subhash Agrawal, 56, was part of a conspiracy to kill his sister. Subhash challenged the accusations in Mumbai High Court last week, saying that he is the target of a vindictive smear campaign and that there is "not a whisper" of evidence against him.To Suresh and Subhash, two of Dr. Goel's three brothers, the estate -- $5-million worth of properties, including a lodge and the family's penthouse suite in the posh Mumbai enclave of Malabar Hill -- was their home and their business. When their father died in 1986, it seemed natural they would inherit it.But according to Indian tradition, a father's wealth is inherited by all his sons. When the youngest son, Shekhar Agrawal, who lives in Los Angeles, fathered a boy -- the first Agrawal male in 38 years -- Shekhar decided to claim his share for his family line.Subhash and Suresh produced a will that granted them the estate, according to court documents. Subhash adopted an infant boy, Sanjay Goel said.Enraged at what he thought was his brothers' trickery, Shekhar sued them, and the rift in the family grew.

 

According to Sanjay, his mother and her three sisters felt their brothers' anger. The siblings abandoned a ceremony they did their entire lives -- Rakhi, a traditional celebration of the bond of love between brothers and sisters.But Dr. Goel, the chief obstetrician at Headwaters Health Centre in Orangeville, Ont., who presided at the births of more than 10,000 babies since arriving in Canada 43 years ago, shielded her children from the worst."To my mom's credit, she never really exposed the kids to the depth of the issue because she didn't want it to affect the way we felt about the concept of family," Sanjay said."Mother was a professional. She was the person that everyone looked up to, everyone paid homage to. She was successful, and everyone turned to her for advice."When Suresh was hospitalized for kidney failure in 2003, Dr. Goel and Sanjay visited him. According to Sanjay, she told her brothers to either share the wealth among the three of them and become a family again or she and her three sisters would lay claim to the property under India's modern inheritance laws.Instead of getting one-third of the wealth, she said, the brothers would get one-seventh.

 

There was a fierce quarrel over the property, and Sanjay returned to Vancouver to his cruise ship business, Cruise Connections Canada, leaving his mother with her sisters. Five days after he left, his mother was found slumped on Suresh's guest bed, stabbed 20 times and beaten with a granite slab that was left broken at the scene."I got a terrible phone call from my father," Sanjay said. "He said, 'Your mother is dead.' I couldn't believe it."I was the last person in our immediate family to see her alive. My sisters didn't. My father didn't. I was the last one. I still regret to this day that when she said, 'Should I come home now?' I didn't say, 'Yes, Mom. Let me organize it.' "

 

Some 40 hours after that phone call, Sanjay stood in Mumbai with his father, Sadan, his sister and his uncle Shekhar."I felt like someone had pulled a rug from under my feet," Sadan Goel said about his wife's death. "I couldn't believe it."[Suresh] said it's a suicide. He said there's some injury to the head. I said that's impossible. No one does a suicide by hitting the head. I said, probably she's been killed. He couldn't answer me."Subhash, who lived in Montreal at the time, heard of the homicide and demanded that a property manager, Pawankumar Goenka, help the police investigation. Subhash rushed to India, arriving the day after.There were no signs of forced entry in Suresh's apartment, and only some costume jewellery, a small sum in rupees and a camera were missing, according to Sanjay, who said the items were collectively worth no more than $2,000."To this day, I still haven't gone back into that room," Sanjay said.The slaying took place more than two years ago, and Sanjay said it has been a troubling and frustrating odyssey for the family.Pradeep Parab, one of Suresh's employees, was arrested 10 days after the killing, but was later released because of a lack of evidence.Suresh's health problems finally claimed him two months later, and the Indian police reassigned the case. Frustrated by the slow pace of the Indian investigation, Sanjay and his father began travelling to India, placing ads in Mumbai newspapers, asking police to continue the investigation, and eventually hiring private investigators to keep track of Mr. Parab.

 

Over the next months, Indian police said, Mr. Parab voluntarily underwent lie-detector tests, brain mapping, and sodium pentothal interrogations.Police said Mr. Parab told a magistrate in September of 2005 that he was involved in Dr. Goel's death, and gave police crucial evidence that led to the naming of three more men linked closely to Dr. Goel's brothers, according to Indian court documents.The three named were Suresh's son-in-law Narendra Goel; the house manager of one of his properties, Manohar Shinde; and Subhash's property manager, Mr. Goenka.According to Mumbai Crime Branch senior investigator Jaywald Hargude, the three were questioned and pointed to Suresh as the mastermind.In December, police filed charge sheets -- a summary of evidence and a recommendation of charges to Indian court -- against Mr. Parab and the three he named. In those charge sheets and in subsequent court filings, police also accused Subhash of conspiring with the men and declared he is a wanted man. "The investigation in this case . . . clearly points towards the existence of a criminal conspiracy which was essentially hatched by none other than the deceased's own brothers," Mr. Hargude wrote in a court filing.

 

The motive that shattered the powerful, wealthy Indian family? A quarrel over the inheritance, he wrote.Police have summoned Subhash to India for further questioning, but have not formally recommended charges, Mr. Hargude said.No formal extradition process has begun, but Mr. Hargude said in an interview he would pursue Subhash. Ottawa police acknowledged last week that they had received and acted on requests for information about the case.Subhash's Canadian lawyer, Jacques Shore of Ottawa, said Subhash had received the summons which, to him, was a shocking part of a continuing horrible ordeal."He has been devastated. His business dealings have been ruptured. Everything that he had that was normal in his life has essentially been altered since this horrific death of his sister," he said in an interview.Subhash has done everything to co-operate with the Indian investigation, Mr. Shore said, but could not travel to India because of serious diabetes and a kidney condition. He's offered to be interrogated in Canada through a progatory commission, but Indian police haven't taken him up on that offer, he said.Subhash doesn't know why he is accused, but it appears to be a "vilification campaign" launched by Sanjay Goel to "rope" him into the crime, he claims in court documents that were argued last Thursday in Mumbai High Court, pointing to statements Mr. Goel has made in Indian news media."The family dispute over property is nothing but a figment of imagination of [Inspector Hargude]," his Indian lawyers wrote.

 

The argument was actually over the family's unrelated Canadian properties, in which Subhash was not interested, he claimed.Police have "assaulted and tortured" his staff looking for confessions, he wrote in court, and until the police produce evidence and charge him, they must stop defaming him in public through an "illegal, null and void" investigation, he said.Police fired back in court that Subhash is accused and doesn't have a right to see the evidence against him, calling again for him to return to India.The court said the investigation should continue, but demanded last Thursday to see a summary of the investigator's evidence before the court resumes on March 23.Sanjay said the expanding police investigation -- one that Mr. Hargude indicated will soon span two continents -- means it is time for the Canadian government to act on information it took him, his brother-in-law and his father 26 visits to India and $500,000 spent on flights, hotels and the salaries of private investigators to compile."It's not an Indian problem," he said. "It was a Canadian over there. Whether there had been a Canadian aspect in the conspiracy or not, it should have warranted the full attention of the Canadian government."The recent slayings of two Canadians in Mexico have warranted a lot of Canadian attention, he said."Canada should be here: The story shouldn't be, 'I'm sorry, it's in India, we can't get involved.' "Kim Girtel, a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, said the government was in contact with the Mumbai investigators.Sanjay says the ordeal has shattered his faith in the power of family his mother so strongly believed in.Part of him refuses to believe that a family member could be involved. "It's unthinkable," he said.

 

Who's who:

Dr. Asha Goel: A Canadian obstetrician found brutally murdered in her brother's apartment in India.

 

Her immediate family:

Dr. Sadan Goel: Orangeville, Ont., doctor and husband of Dr. Asha Goel.

Sanjay Goel: Vancouver businessman and son of Dr. Asha Goel.

 

The brothers that contested Dr. Asha Goel's father's $5-million estate:

Suresh Agrawal: Mumbai businessman accused posthumously of conspiracy to murder Dr. Asha Goel.

Subhash Agrawal: Ottawa resident and Canadian citizen accused in court by Indian police of conspiracy to murder Dr. Asha Goel.

Shekhar Agrawal: Los Angeles resident who sued Subhash and Suresh Agrawal over their father's $5-million inheritance.

 

The investigator:

Jaywald Hargude: Mumbai Crime Branch inspector.

 

Police have recommended charges against:

Pradeep Parab: Employee of Suresh.

Narendra Goel: Son-in-law of Suresh.

Manohar Shinde: Manager of one of Suresh's properties.

Pawankumar Goenka: Subhash's key property manager in India.