Kochi: Seventeen years after a Muslim cleric was murdered, a court here Wednesday found the main accused guilty but let off eight others for lack of evidence that could nail them.
Special Judge S.Vijayakumar at the Ernakulam special CBI court held P.V. Hamza guilty of the crime as he had called Chekannur P.K. Mohammed Abdul Hassan Moulavi from his house in Malappuram, about 300 km from here, after which the cleric disappeared.
The quantum of punishment will be announced Thursday.
Hassan Moulavi, in his mid 50s, was last seen July 29, 1993, when he was taken away in a jeep from his house by somebody, later identified by the victim`s wife as Hamza, on the pretext of taking him to a lecture programme.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which took over the case in 1996, concluded in 1998 that the Moulavi was murdered.
Hassan Moulavi, who was appreciated for his scholarly thinking and good oratorical skills, was seen by fundamentalist elements within his community as a "trouble maker".
The court said it was a criminal conspiracy to eliminate him.
As the prosecution failed to find the victim`s body and get clinching evidence against the eight other accused, they were given the benefit of doubt and let off.
In late 2005, a CBI team dug an area near here after those arrested said the cleric`s body was buried there. But nothing was found and the search for the body was abandoned.
The case earlier got a twist when Special CBI Judge Kamal B. Pasha arraigned Sunni leader Kanthapuram A.P. Aboobacker Musaliyar as an accused in the case in the same year. But the Kerala High Court quashed the order against Musaliyar.
The cleric`s family approached the Supreme Court with the special CBI judge`s observation, but the plea was not admitted.
The CBI examined 45 witnesses in the case, seven of whom turned hostile recently, making it even more difficult for the investigating agency to crack the case.
After the verdict, Moulavi`s wife Howwa Umma expressed surprise that only one has been convicted.
"Is it possible for one person to do this? Anyways, we are happy that at least one person has been found guilty of the crime," she said.
"We really want to know what happened to his body," the wailing wife said.