SUNANDA Pushkar, the wife of India’s former minister of state for human resource development Shashi Tharoor, who was found dead in a five-star hotel in south Delhi on January 17, 2014, was poisoned to death, Delhi Police announced on Tuesday.
Pushkar spent five years in the Toronto area and was a Canadian citizen, according to a report in the Toronto Star newspaper last year.
Pushkar died the day after a twitter spat with Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar over an alleged affair with her husband. Her son from a previous marriage, Shiv Menon, told Indian media at the time that his mother was “too strong” to commit suicide and died due to an unfortunate combination of media stress, tensions and a wrong mix of different medication.
A report by a sub-divisional magistrate, who was probing her death, said Sunanda died of poisoning. Indian media at the time said the investigations were incomplete and would continue.
The Delhi Police’s announcement on Tuesday triggered demands for the Congress leader’s resignation from the Lok Sabha, India’s House of Commons.
IANS reported that Delhi Police Commissioner B.S. Bassi said a murder case had now been registered against “unknown persons” and that the final medical report was clear that Pushkar, 52, died an unnatural death.
“She died due to poisoning. Whether the poison was given orally or injected into her body is being probed,” he said, adding her viscera would be sent abroad.
Ruling out suicide, Special Commissioner of Police Deepak Mishra said it was a case of “homicidal poisoning”.
Tharoor, the Lok Sabha member from Thiruvananthapuram, said he was stunned by the developments and assured full cooperation with police.
The Congress said it was not clear from Bassi’s comments if Pushkar killed herself or was murdered.
The Delhi Police got the final medical report from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) December 29. Police sources told IANS the murder case was registered January 4.
A special police team has been formed to probe the murder.
Asked why it took almost a year for the final medical report to come, Bassi said the interim report spoke of poisoning but did not say it was an unnatural death.
In a statement at Thiruvananthapuram, Tharoor said he and members of Pushkar’s family wanted access to all information related to his wife’s death.
The first autopsy report, submitted January 20 last year, said Tharoor’s wife died due to drug overdose. It reported a dozen injury marks on her body.
A later autopsy report in July put the number of injury marks at 15. All the injuries were caused by blunt forces except one which was an injection mark.
Later, Sudhir Kumar Gupta, who headed the forensic team in AIIMS, alleged that he was pressured to show that Pushkar’s death was natural.
The AIIMS denied the claim. Gupta was later moved out of his post.
Tharoor retained the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha seat. He was later named by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as one of the ambassadors of his Clean India campaign. After Tharoor praised the drive, the Congress dropped him as one of its official spokespersons.
IANS reported Thursday that circumstantial evidence points to “alprazolam poisoning” as the reason for Sunanda Pushkar’s death and injuries to her were caused by “blunt force” but did not cause death while her body also bore injection and teeth bite marks, says the FIR [police report] in the murder case.
“The circumstantial evidences are suggestive of alprazolam poisoning,” said the three-page First Information Report, adding poisoning was through oral route but an “injectable route” could not be ruled out.
“All the injuries mentioned are caused by blunt force, simple in nature, non-contributing to death and are produced in scuffle, except injury number 10 which is an injection mark. Injury number 12 is a teeth bite mark. The injuries number 1 to 15 are of various duration ranging from 12 hours to four days,” the FIR said.
The FIR said the latest report from autopsy board, received December 29, 2014, said Pushkar, 52, was neither ill nor suffering from any disease prior to her death.
“She was a normal, healthy individual. In view of the above analysis, death due to natural cause is ruled out. The cause of death in this case is poisoning. The poisoning is through oral route, however injectable route too also can’t be ruled out,” the FIR said.
Narrating the sequence of events, the FIR says that then station house officer (SHO) of Sarojini Nagar police station Atul Sood received a telephonic call on Jan 17, 2014 from Tharoor’s personal secretary (PS) Abinav Kumar that Pushkar “has done something” in room number 345 of Hotel Leela Palace. A daily diary entry regarding the death was lodged the same day.
Pushkar had checked into the hotel at 5:48 p.m. January 15, 2014.
The FIR says that the first autopsy, conducted by three doctors of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), opined poisoning as the cause of death.
The concerned sub-divisional magistrate sent the report to Sarojini Nagar SHO asking him to conduct further investigation. It also asked him to request the director, Central Forensic Science Laboratory, for early report of viscera examination.
The viscera, clothes and medicines found on the spot were sent to CFSL Jan 20 last year. Police got viscera analysis report in March last year and it was given to the AIIMS autopsy board the same month.
In its subsequent report in September, the autopsy board opined “the cause of death in the case is poisoning”.
The FIR says that autopsy board members along with CFSL expert team visited the scene of occurrence Nov 5 and again collected evidence.
“The report in this regard was received on December 24, 2014 and the same was sent to autopsy board along with other relevant treatment papers related to the deceased on the same day,” the FIR said.
LAST year, the Toronto Star report said that Pushkar was a Canadian citizen who moved to Toronto in 1999 with her son, but her stay was “a bit of a mystery.”
Pushkar is said to have moved to Toronto with her son Shiv (from her second marriage) from Dubai with a banker of Pakistani origin reportedly after financial losses. Her second husband returned to India where he allegedly committed suicide in 1997.
Jacob Joseph Puthenparambil, a digital media specialist in Singapore who was chief of staff for Tharoor from early 2009 to June 2010, said that after her husband’s death, her son, who was them 5 or 6, stopped talking because of shock. Pushkar learned that she could get care in Canada for Shiv, who is now an actor living in Mumbai, said the Star.
She told Tehelka, a weekly news magazine in New Delhi, in 2010 that she started life in Canada from scratch, doing odd jobs for some time before getting into the IT sector.
She said that they tied up with companies like Compaq and headhunted in India for them. Then she started working with a San Francisco company called Valley Resources and made good money, enrolling her son in a private school.
She also reportedly worked for Noble House International, a global real estate company. In 2004, a company called Best Homes sent her to Dubai to set up its real estate operations.
The Star said that she bought a house for $325,000 in Markham in December 2000, according to property records, and that the house is still in her name.
“According to a declaration of assets in January 2013, she listed 12 apartments in Dubai: some rented out, some still under construction. The total value of her assets, including jewelry and cars, was approximately $21 million. The declaration is available on the Indian prime minister’s website, the Star reported.
Pushkar, who first met Tharoor in 2009 in Dubai when he was still married to Christa Giles, a Canadian diplomat he had met at the UN, married him in 2010.