Canada accused of stalling doctor murder probe in India

A lack of co-operation from Canadian authorities has stalled an investigation into the grisly slaying of an Ontario doctor just over nine years ago, Indian authorities tell CBC News.
Asha Goel, in the pink sari, is photographed with her extended family. Subhash Agrawal, in the black suit in the centre of the photo, is on the right of his older brother Suresh Agrawal. (Courtesy Goel family)

A lack of co-operation from Canadian authorities has stalled an investigation into the grisly slaying of an Ontario doctor just over nine years ago, Indian authorities tell CBC News.

Asha Goel, a Canadian citizen, was found dead – the victim of extensive trauma — on August 23, 2003 while visiting family in Mumbai, India. But one of the men wanted in connection to her death, Goel’s brother Subhash Agrawal, lives in Ottawa and has yet to be questioned about the matter.

"Subhash Agrawal is wanted for us … he is wanted for murder and conspiracy of murder" Jaywant Hargude, the assistant commissioner of Mumbai police, told CBC News.

Indian authorities issued an arrest warrant for Agrawal, now 63, in August 2006.

That same year, Interpol issued a red notice for Agrawal, which is an international alert for a wanted fugitive when an arrest warrant is issued and is seen as a means to extradition. The notice was later withdrawn, although Interpol won't say exactly when.

Agrawal has appealed the arrest warrant, and the matter is still before Indian courts. He has never been formally charged. But Mumbai police say their investigation and the appeal process have been stymied because the Canadian government isn’t co-operating.

"We hope that [the] Canadian government will provide us information as early as possible because this investigation is delayed because of them because we are not getting the information in time. That is our problem" said Hargude, who was leading the investigation into Goel's death.

A Canadian police source with knowledge of the case told CBC News that he believes authorities here have never questioned Agrawal on the matter.

"We are aware of the murder of Dr. Goel and are prepared to assist India in any way that we can," said a spokeswoman with the Canadian Department of Justice in an email. 

"As with all such matters, we cannot discuss confidential state-to-state communications."

Severe injuries

The autopsy report regarding Asha Goel's death states that the primary injury causing death was a major fracture to the skull or orbital region.

Goel's family claims they later learned from police Goel was stabbed multiple times with a vegetable peeler, paring knife, and two marble tiles that were smashed against her head. Goel’s body and face were badly beaten: she had two missing teeth, a broken nose, jaw, and was blinded in one eye. 

"We all have the memory of our mother's eyes, and their warm face, their smile. Those things were destroyed. Even when we cremated her and people did their best to cover up her injuries, it was ghastly" said the victim’s son, Sanjay Goel.

"I have never had anything to do with the death of my sister, Dr. Asha Goel, whom I loved dearly," Subhash Agrawal wrote in a statement to CBC News. "Others stood to gain enormously from her death, both financially and otherwise. I had absolutely no financial gain which should flow as a consequence of her murder."

Agrawal, a businessman based in Ottawa, declined an interview request.

A dispute worth millions

Asha Goel’s husband, Sadan Goel, says she was the peacemaker in the family but was upset that two of her brothers — Suresh and Subhash Agrawal — had decided to split their late father’s multi-million dollar inheritance amongst themselves, leaving the youngest brother with nothing.

His wife warned her brothers in an ongoing family dispute that she believed they had produced a fake will, and that if they didn’t share the inheritance with their third brother, she and her three sisters would stake a claim, he said.

Asha Goel and her family moved to Orangeville, Ont., in 1987, where she worked as the chief of obstetrics and gynecology at the Headwaters Health Centre. (Courtesy Goel family)

Indian law gives women the right to equal inheritance but it’s customary for sons to claim paternal properties. A commonly held belief is that daughters will reap the benefits of their husband’s fortunes.

Goel hoped to resolve the family dispute during her visit to India in the summer of 2003, just after her youngest daughter's wedding. But instead, her son says, there was a heated argument between her and Suresh Agrawal. Goel left Suresh Agrawal’s home in the tony Malbar Hill area of Mumbai very upset. Subhash was not in the country at the time.

On Aug. 22, the day before Goel’s flight home, Suresh Agrawal apologized, and asked his sister to spend her last night in India at his home. She agreed.

The next morning Goel was found dead in the guest room she was sleeping in at her brother's apartment. She was 63.

Suresh Agrawal first told the Goel family he thought Asha committed suicide. Hargude said the injuries Goel suffered indicate that a suicide was highly unlikely. Police initially deemed it a robbery but there didn't appear to be a clear motive, and very little property — some of Goel's jewelry and a camera — was stolen.

"[The] ultimate motive behind this murder was a property dispute, and we have come to this conclusion. We have put the case before the court with this motive behind the murder," said Hargude.

Arrest warrant issued in 2006

Mumbai police arrested one of the Agrawal brothers’ employees, Pradeep Prabhakar Parab, a month after Asha's death and charged him with murder.

In Oct. 2005, Pawankumar Goenka, Manohar Shinde and Narendra Goel — Suresh Agrawal's son-in-law —were charged with murder. Police also implicated Asha's brother Suresh in planning her killing, but he died of natural causes a month after the homicide.

Subhash Agrawal was asked repeatedly to submit to questioning by Mumbai police starting in November 2005. He did not comply, and in August 2006 Mumbai police issued an arrest warrant for him.

"Servants of this Subhash Agrawal in India were arrested and their involvement is clear in this murder, and once these servants are involved in this case ultimately there is somebody from the family who has provided all this money, and all this planning to the servants to kill Asha Goel," said Hargude.

Hargude also told CBC News the night of Goel’s death there were calls between Subhash Agrawal, his brother Suresh, and the servants implicated. Questionable money transfers between exist, said Hargude, who added he could not provide further details because of the ongoing investigation.

And Subhash Agrawal is paying for the legal costs of the men accused of killing his sister, says Hargude.

As a result, Mumbai police say they have asked Canadian authorities for Agrawal’s phone and bank records in Ottawa. Canadian authorities received the first formal request for help in Sept. 2006, but Hargude says they have shared no information to date.

But Asha's family says they contacted Canadian authorities well before the formal Sept. 2006 communication.

Asha Goel is pictured with her husband Sadan Goel in one of the last photographs before her death. (Courtesy Goel family)

Sanjay Goel alleges Subhash was granted citizenship sometime in 2005, he says even after the Canadian government was asked by the Indian government to not grant him citizenship because he was a suspect in Asha's slaying.

'I feel that my country has abandoned me'

The Goel family says they feel betrayed by the Canadian government.

"I feel that my country has abandoned me. They don't care. That makes me sad. Is this the country which I served? Is this the country where I gave my youth and my whole adult life? Is this country where my wife served?" said Sadan Goel, Asha’s widower in an interview.

Sadan, now 74, is a retired general surgeon.  Asha and he moved to Canada in 1963, when he was 25, and Asha was 23.  The couple practiced medicine in Regina and Ontario for almost 40 years. Asha Goel has delivered over 10,000 Canadian babies, the family estimates.

Asha Goel worked as chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Headwater Health centre in Orangeville, Ont., a position she had held since she moved there with her family from Regina in 1987.

"She was a fireball, she loved to work. We always knew when she hit the ward, because it was like, 'Okay I’m here, let's go girls,'" said old friend and colleague Mary Jane White.

When she first heard of Goel’s slaying, she "sobbed for hours and hours."

She says Asha’s husband was a "broken man" after his wife’s death.

"It’s impossible to replace a person. She wasn't just my life partner, she's a friend, a mother of my children," said Sadan Goel. He says his family has been fight for justice for nine years. They’ve knocked on the doors of Ottawa police, RCMP, multiple MPs, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Department of Justice for help.

"The Canadians told me that this is an Indian problem. The crime has taken place over there and they should be looking into it, and if they need our help, we will do it," said Goel.