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Jayalalitha convicted in hotel case

By Our Special Correspondent

CHENNAI, FEB. 2. The former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Ms. Jayalalitha, was today convicted by a Special Court in the `Pleasant Stay Hotel' case. Found guilty under two counts, the AIADMK general secretary was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for one year and to pay a fine of Rs. 1,000 for each of the counts.

Ruling that the sentences would run concurrently, the Special Judge-II, Mr. V. Radhakrishnan, suspended the operation of the substantial portion of the sentence till March 3 to enable Ms. Jayalalitha and the others accused, who were also convicted, to file an appeal. A visibly shocked Ms. Jayalalitha paid the fine amount.

While Ms. Jayalalitha was cited as the main accused, the others were the former Minister, Mr. T.M. Selvaganapathy, the former Municipal Administration Secretary, Mr. H.M. Pandey, the hotel's executive director, Mr. Rakesh Mittal, and the chairman, Mr. Palai Shanmugam.

The 74-page judgment said: ``We have sufficient circumstantial evidence which proves beyond any reasonable doubt that A1 to A3 committed criminal misconduct abetted by A4 and A5, and A1 to A5 were party to the criminal conspiracy.''

On the charge of falsification of records, the judge said he was acquitting Ms. Jayalalitha giving her the benefit of doubt.

Coming out of the court hall, accompanied by her associate, Ms. Sasikala, and senior AIADMK leaders, Ms. Jayalalitha declined comment on the judgment. She said she would go on appeal.

The prosecution case was that in 1994, Ms. Jayalalitha, Mr. Selvaganapathy and Mr. Pandey by corrupt or illegal means, and by abusing their official position, obtained for the hotel pecuniary advantage by issuing Government orders granting exemptions and relaxations from various rules to the hotel which had illegally put up a seven-storeyed structure at Kodaikanal. Mr. Mittal and Mr. Shanmugam abetted the other accused in the offence.

The judge said, having known fully well about the strong and well-founded objections raised by officials, including the Department Secretary, Ms. Jayalalitha and Mr. Selvaganapathy granted exemption to the hotel enabling it to obtain pecuniary advantage.

Referring to the shifting of the former Municipal Administration Secretary, Mr. P.C. Cyriac, the judge said the claim of the accused - that it was only a routine transfer and nothing to do with his refusal to toe the line of Ms. Jayalalitha and Mr. Selvaganapathy to issue a G.O. granting exemptions to the hotel - was not acceptable.

The file relating to the hotel should have reached the Chief Minister through her office following the usual procedure. But the evidence of the three prosecution witnesses disclosed that the file did not come to the Chief Minister's office and had gone directly to her table from Mr. Selvaganapathy and she had given her approval by affixing her signature. The circumstances clearly indicate that Ms. Jayalalitha had conspired with Mr. Selvaganapathy and also Mr. Mittal and Mr. Shanmugham to grant pecuniary advantage to the hotel by passing orders abusing her position as public servant.

On immunity to Ms. Jayalalitha and Mr. Selvaganapathy as legislators under Art. 194 of the Constitution, the judge said that the vote given by the two in the Assembly for passing the Act, amending the District Municipalities Act, was in no way an integral part of the proceedings giving rise to the criminal liability.

Reacting to the judgment, the Chief Minister, Mr. M. Karunanidhi said, based on the people's mandate given during the 1996 election, the State Government initiated legal action against those who indulged in corruption during the previous regime. ``The law will continue to take its course. This will be a lesson to those who resorted to corruption and those who intend committing such an act,'' he said.

The TMC president, Mr. G.K. Moopanar said, his party's stand had always been that in respect of the court cases against AIADMK leaders, ``the law will take its own course''. The judgment, however, would not affect the TMC-led People's Progressive Front's decision to support the AIADMK candidates in the coming by-elections. ``Just as the State Government preferred an appeal in the TANSI land case, Ms. Jayalalitha also may prefer an appeal against today's judgment,'' he said.

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