Sherif called Salim from an ‘exclusive’ connection, which led to the latter’s murder and the former’s arrest.

Around 10 a.m. on July 9, 2011, Salim, a 44-year-old Gulf-based moneylender hailing from Attingal, received the “last mobile phone call he would ever attend in his life.” It was barely 20 seconds long.

Twelve days later, the police exhumed his body (found dismembered and packed in airtight plastic bags) from the compound of a remotely located house at Chirayinkeezhu. At the time of his death, Salim weighed over 80 kg.

On Saturday, a district court here found the tenant of the house, Salim’s long-time business partner and friend, Sherif, 42, guilty of the businessman’s murder. Zanobar, 40, another partner, was found guilty of plotting the crime.

The three had operated a thriving moneylending racket among low-paid migrant workers living in labour camps in Saudi Arabia since 2000.

The prosecution case was that the duo had killed Salim to deny him his share, chiefly accumulated profits amounting to crores of rupees, in the solely trust-based and largely unaccounted business.

A team of police investigators led by Assistant Commissioner K.E. Baiju and Sub Inspector C. Mohanan had relied on forensic analysis of mobile phone footprints (the digital data trail of cell phone communications) to crack the case.

They found that Salim had received “the last call he attended” from a recently initiated mobile phone connection. The phone had been used only to communicate with Salim and it went off the grid after the businessman’s disappearance.

A SIM card vendor at Kallambalam had initiated the connection after inadvertently accepting photocopies of cleverly forged documents, including that of a passport, as identity proof.

The photograph on the passport copy turned out to be that of a Bangladeshi citizen and the document’s number was seen altered. Forensic experts retrieved the original number of the passport.

It turned out to be that of a resident of Kannur, employed in Riyadh. He had given his passport, briefly, to Sherif in Saudi Arabia as collateral for a loan he had taken from him.

Investigators turned their focus on Sherif’s cell phone communications. They found that the location of Sherif’s cell phone always matched that of the instrument from which Salim received the “last call in his life” on the day of the murder. They told the court that Sherif was the person who made the “last call” to Salim. Sherif’s arrest also exposed Zanobar’s complicity in the murder.

Special Prosecutor V.S. Vineet Kumar told the court that it was a well-planned and remorselessly executed “murder for profit” case. He argued for death sentence for both the accused.

The court had earlier heard that Sherif invited Salim home in the morning on July 9 and served him liquor laced with sedatives. Sherif had sent his wife and two children to a relative’s house the previous day.

The police said Sherif killed the unconscious man by smashing his head with a machete. He dissected the body and disposed it of in the deep pit he had dug behind the house along with the clothes he was wearing at the time of the crime.

The cell phone involved in the crime and the SIM card were recovered from the pit. Forensic DNA analysis found that blood stains on the clothes matched that of the accused.

The court cancelled the bail of the accused and remanded them in judicial custody. It will pronounce its sentence next week.