Jayalalithaa acquitted as the numbers add up

OUR BUREAU Bengaluru | Updated on January 23, 2018 Published on May 11, 2015

Jayalalithaa showing victory sign.

bl11_Jaya court

Set to return as CM as Karnataka High Court acquits her in disproportionate assets case

Former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa has been acquitted of all charges in a 19-year-old disproportionate assets case, paving the way for her return to public office.

Justice CR Kumaraswamy of the Karnataka High Court upheld her appeal on Monday, in a hearing that lasted just a few seconds. The judge set aside the trial court verdict sentencing 66-year-old Jayalalithaa, her close confidante Sasikala, and two of the latter’s relatives — J Ilavarasi and VN Sudhakaran — to four years in jail. The trial court had also imposed a fine of ₹100 crore on the former chief minister and ₹10 crore each on the others.

“Taking into consideration the overall circumstances and material placed on record, in my view, the judgment and finding recorded by the trial court suffers from infirmity and it is not sustainable in law,” said Justice Kumaraswamy.

The judgment cited a precedent set by the Supreme Court in the Krishnand Agnihotri v/s State of Madhya Pradesh case in 1977, noting: “It is well settled law that according to Krishnanand Agnihotri’s case, when there is disproportionate asset to the extent of 10 per cent, the accused are entitled for acquittal.” It added: “A circular has been issued by the Government of Andhra Pradesh that disproportionate asset to the extent of 20% can also be considered as a permissible limit.”

The accounting

While the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) stated that the accused’s total assets involved amounted to ₹66.44 crore, Justice Kumaraswamy stated that the prosecution had mixed Jayalalithaa’s personal assets with those of firms on which she and Sasikala served as Directors. The judgment noted that the DVAC had exaggerated the cost of construction (₹27.79 crore) on various properties and marriage expenses (₹6.45 crore) of Sasikala’s nephew VN Sudhakaran (in 1995), valuing all the assets to arrive at the total of ₹66.44 crore.

“If we remove the exaggerated value of cost of construction and marriage expenses, the assets will work out at ₹37,59,02,466. The total income of the accused, firms and companies is ₹34,76,65,654. Lack of proportion amount is ₹2,82,36,812. The percentage of disproportionate assets is 8.12 per cent,” he said in the 919-page order.

This, said Justice Kumaraswamy, citing the above precedents, was “relatively small” and “within the permissible limit”. Therefore, he ruled, “the accused are entitled for acquittal”.

The judgment differed with the trial court that Jayalalithaa had spent nearly ₹3 crore on Sudhakaran’s wedding. It also said the court had failed to treat loans received from banks as income (see table).

Jayalalithaa had filed an appeal after special court judge Michael D’Cunha convicted and fined her along with Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Elavarasi in the case last September.

The case dates back to 1996, when then Janata Party chief and now BJP leader Subramanian Swamy filed a suit against Jayalalithaa alleging that she had amassed wealth worth ₹66.65 crore disproportionate to her known sources of income during her tenure as chief minister from 1991 to 1996.

In 2003, the Supreme Court transferred the case to Karnataka after DMK General Secretary K Anbazhagan approached the court claiming that a fair trial was not possible in Tamil Nadu with Jayalalithaa in power.

‘Pure gold’

A jubilant Jayalalithaa, who is expected to take over as chief minister from AIADMK colleague O Panneerselvam, said truth and justice have prevailed. “I am immensely satisfied, the verdict has paved the way for me to emerge as tested pure gold,” she said.

Reacting to the verdict, special public prosecutor BV Acharya said Karnataka had the option of appealing the verdict before the Supreme Court. He also said the prosecution had been given no opportunity to put forth oral arguments and got only a day was given for written submissions.

Published on May 11, 2015
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