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India's Most-Wanted Fugitive Allegedly Kidnaps Ex-Minister - 2002-08-26

Police in southern India say the country's most notorious bandit has struck again kidnapping a former state minister and one of his bodyguards.

It has been two years since India's most-wanted fugitive, Veerappan, is alleged to have kidnapped and then released one of southern India's most prominent film actor's, Rajkumar.

Veerappan is reported to have struck again late Sunday allegedly kidnapping former Karnataka state minister H. Nagappa, a prominent member of the centrist People's Party. The kidnapping took place in a rural area about 200 kilometers south of Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka.

Mr. Nagappa, a leading critic of Veerappan's, had led efforts to apprehend the fugitive. Veerrappan is said to be a notorious ivory and sandalwood smuggler accused of involvement in more than 100 murders.

He is alleged to have killed about 30 local officials, mostly game wardens and local law enforcement officers.

Police have sealed off roads in the area, which borders the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. A local police official told the Star Television network a manhunt began soon after the kidnapping took place.

"Our people have already entered the forest," he said. "They are after him. Even last night I contacted them (police). So they are after him."

Veerappan has eluded capture for years surviving in the dense jungle forests that straddle the state borders of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Authorities say he and his gang have killed a number of local inhabitants who have tried to turn him in to police.

Local media reports say a cassette and a written message were left at the kidnap site, detailing ransom demands.

Veerappan was reportedly paid about $4 million for the release of Rajkumar two years ago. But both the actor's family and state officials in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka deny paying any ransom.