Indian police arrest BJP member's aide over her death

Aide's friend also detained after postmortem in Goa showed signs of blunt-force injuries

Indian politician and TV personality Sonali Phogat was found dead in her hotel room in India's resort state of Goa. Photo: Calle Montes / Photononstop / Corbis
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Indian police have arrested the personal aide of Sonali Phogat, a Bharatiya Janata Party member, and his friend after her body was found in a hotel room in Goa.

Phogat, 43, from Haryana, arrived in the resort state with her personal assistant Sudhir Sangwan and his friend Sukhwinder Wasi on Monday.

But the next day, she was pronounced dead at St Anthony Hospital in Anjuna village.

Police initially believed that Phogat had died of a heart attack but arrested Mr Sangwan and Mr Wasi after a postmortem report released on Thursday said that she had suffered several blunt-force injuries.

After examining security camera footage from the beach restaurant Curlie's in Anjuna, where Phogat was last seen alive, police said on Friday that the two men had spiked her drink with “some obnoxious substance”.

The footage also showed Phogat in a giddy state as Mr Sangwan helped her leave the restaurant on Monday night.

“From the CCTV footage procured from the Curlie’s club, it can be seen that Sudhir Sangwan and Sukhwinder are partying with the deceased, and in one video, one of the accused is forcibly giving a drink of water with some substance,” Omvir Singh, a senior police officer, said.

“The two men have confessed.”

The actual cause of death has yet to be established as some chemical analysis reports from the postmortem are pending.

Phogat was popular on social media and had a large following on TikTok. She rose to fame after her television acting debut in 2016 and also participated in a popular show hosted by Bollywood star Salman Khan in 2020.

She ran as a member of the BJP in elections to the Haryana state legislature in 2019 but lost to a Congress Party candidate.

Phogat's brother, Rinku Dhaka, told local media he suspected foul play and accused her two companions of involvement in her death, saying they had taken her to Goa on the pretext of a film shoot.

“Sudhir Sagwan told us that film shooting was there on August 24. But hotel rooms were booked only for two days, on August 22 and 23,” he said.

Mr Dhaka also alleged that Mr Sangwan had raped Phogat three years ago and had been blackmailing her with an explicit video.

There have been no public comments from either Mr Sangwan or Mr Wasi, or their lawyers

BJP leader Manohar Lal Khattar, head of the Haryana state government, expressed his condolences over Phogat's death and called for an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Updated: August 26, 2022, 5:57 PM