Though Karnataka’s appeal against the acquittal of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in a disproportionate assets case will abate with her death, legal experts are split on whether the Supreme Court can now go ahead and pronounce its verdict on the culpability of her three co-accused — Sasikala Natarajan, V.N. Sudhakaran and J. Elavarasi.
Some experts said a re-hearing of the appeal was required to determine the “pivotal point” as to whether the “ancillary” charge of criminal conspiracy against the three accused would lie, when the “principal” offence of misuse of office against the prime accused and sole public servant in the case stood abated with her death.
Karnataka had appealed against the acquittal of the four accused by the State High Court for offences under Section 13 (1) (e) (criminal misconduct by a public servant) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the IP C. It has been exactly six months since a Bench of Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Amitava Roy reserved the appeals for judgment on June 7, 2016.
Former Supreme Court judge K.S. Radhakrishnan said the case against the former Chief Minister would abate. Section 394 of the Criminal Procedure Code mandated that all appeals — even against acquittal, as in this case — “shall finally abate on the death of the accused.” He said the Supreme Court could still decide on the aspect of criminal conspiracy against the three co-accused on the facts and evidence of the case.
On whether findings against the three co-accused might include mentions about Jayalalithaa, senior advocate Harish Salve said the judges had to record in their judgment “the facts as they find it.”
Mr. Salve said a corruption case did not collapse with the death of a public servant and prime accused. The Supreme Court had to decide the element of criminal conspiracy separately. “Because criminal conspiracy is a crime in itself,” Mr. Salve said.
Confiscation of properties
Again, the apex court has to also decide on the aspect of the confiscation and attachment of properties allegedly held by companies cited in the case.
Former Supreme Court judge, K.T. Thomas, said the appeals should be re-opened first.
“When the principal offence of ‘misuse of office’ has become frustrated or has abated on the account of death of the prime accused, the question whether ancillary offences like criminal conspiracy would stand is pivotal, and has to be heard and decided by the Supreme Court,” Justice Thomas said.
He said Section 13 (1) (e) would kick in only if the public servant “fails to account” for his disproportionate wealth.
Here, the entire case against the public servant has abated with her demise, so would the alleged conspiracy also stand against the others.
“Where is the question of conspiracy if the prime accused is no more? The entire case is based on the charge of misuse of office. If that part falls with her [Jayalalithaa’s] death, there is no conspiracy,” Rajya Sabha member and senior advocate KT.S. Tulsi said.