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Pandher charged in serial killings

Indian businessman Moninder Singh Pandher (C) is seen surrounded by police officers as he is taken to court on the outskirts of New Delhi in this January 11, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Businessman Moninder Singh Pandher was charged on Wednesday with the rape and murder of one of the 19 victims of the most gruesome serial killings in the country in recent times, the lawyer for the victims’ families said.

The discovery last December of the body parts of 19 children and young women packed in 57 plastic bags and buried in the backyard and the drains around Pandher’s home near New Delhi shocked India.

But after a bungled investigation by local police, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) ended up blaming the killings on Pandher’s servant, Surender Koli.

While the victims’ families insisted Koli was being made a scapegoat, Pandher faced only minor charges, including being involved in a prostitution racket and pressuring witnesses.

But a court in Ghaziabad extended the charges on Wednesday to include the rape and murder of one of the victims.

“The court found prima facie evidence connecting him with rape, murder, concealment of evidence and conspiracy,” said Khalid Khan, the families’ lawyer.

The CBI has maintained that Pandher was oblivious to serial killings going on inside his home, saying it had mobile phone records showing he was usually out on business when the killings happened.

The victims’ families have accused the CBI of allowing Pandher escape justice. The victims mostly came from the poor slum neighbourhood near Pandher’s home.