The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on an appeal filed by the CBI against a Madras High Court judgment, which set aside the “three lakh U.S. dollars gift case” against her on the ground of inordinate and unexplained delay at the investigation and trial stages.

A Bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and S.S. Nijjar issued notice after Additional Solicitor-General Harin Raval, appearing for the CBI, said the High Court had committed a serious error in not considering various aspects in accordance with law.

Besides Ms. Jayalalithaa, the former Agriculture Minister, K.A. Sengottaiyan, and a former Minister, Azhagu Thirunavukkarasu, who were cited as accused for abetment, were issued notice.

Ms. Jayalalithaa had moved the High Court seeking to quash the proceedings mainly on grounds of delay in registering the FIR and filing the charge sheet. She also challenged an order of the Principal Judge for CBI cases dismissing her petition seeking discharge from the case.

Mr. Sengottaiyan and Mr. Thirunavukkarasu filed petitions in the High Court against the dismissal of their discharge applications by the trial court.

The CBI's appeal is against the common judgment dated September 30, 2011. Its allegation against Ms. Jayalalithaa was that she received a remittance of $3 lakh by way of a demand draft dated December 23, 1991, issued by Bankers Trust Company, New York, drawn on ANZ Grindlays Bank, St. Halia, Jersey.

The CBI contended that though the offence occurred in 1992, it came to the notice of the Income Tax department only in 1996 and was duly communicated to the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary for taking action. As such there was no delay. The High Court ought to have seen that as per the allegation in the FIR, detailed investigation was to be conducted in the U.S., the U.K. and the UAE, and this exercise consumed considerable time for finalising the investigation. But the High Court erroneously held that there was no explanation for a further delay of six years (after filing the FIR) in filing the charge sheet.

Seeks interim stay

In the light of materials available and without testing the same in the trial, the proceedings could not be quashed merely on the ground of delay, the CBI said and prayed for quashing the impugned judgment and an interim stay of its operation.