Supreme Court verdict in Jaya assets case today

Ruling will decide V.K.. Sasikala’s political future, personal liberty

Updated - November 28, 2021 09:54 pm IST

Published - February 14, 2017 01:14 am IST - NEW DELHI:

AIADMK interim general secretary V.K. Sasikala.

AIADMK interim general secretary V.K. Sasikala.

Not only AIADMK interim general secretary V.K. Sasikala’s political future, but her personal liberty, along with the legacy of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, will depend on the verdict the Supreme Court will pronounce in a disproportionate assets case on Tuesday.

At 10.30 a.m., a Bench of Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Amitava Roy will deliver separate judgments on appeals filed by the Karnataka government and others against the acquittal of Jayalalithaa, Sasikala, J. Ilavarasi and V.N. Sudhakaran in the case, which has cast a shadow over Ms. Sasikala’s campaign for the chief minister’s chair.

The possibility of the two-judge Bench delivering split verdicts — one setting aside the acquittal and the other upholding it — cannot be ruled out.

If so, the Bench would refer the appeals to the Chief Justice of India for hearing before another three-judge Bench.

However, legal experts say that merely because there are separate judgments listed, it does not mean they would be of a conflicting nature. In fact, it may be that both judges have concurring views and would be complementing each other in their separate verdicts.

Karnataka had appealed against the acquittal of the accused by the High Court for offences under Section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, and Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.

With Jayalalithaa’s death during the pendency of the appeals in the Supreme Court, charges against her would automatically abate. Section 394 of the Criminal Procedure Code mandates that all appeals — even against acquittal, as in this case — “shall finally abate on the death of the accused.”

However, the Supreme Court would deliver a verdict on the culpability of the other three accused according to the facts as the court finds them. Legal experts say that references to Jayalalithaa’s alleged role would be inevitable while discussing evidence and facts in the verdict as she was the prime accused.

In case of conviction, Ms. Sasikala and three others will have to surrender within the stipulated time laid down by the court. Further, their prison sentence, as awarded by the trial court on September 27, 2014, will revive unless it is modified by the Supreme Court.

The trial court had sentenced Ms. Sasikala, Ms. Elavarasi and Mr. Sudhakaran under Section 109 of the IPC, read with Section 13 (2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act (abetment of criminal misconduct of a public servant) to simple imprisonment for a period of four years each and imposed a fine of ₹10 crore on each. In case of default, they will further suffer imprisonment for another year.

For the offence of criminal conspiracy leading to criminal misconduct of a public servant (Section 120 (B) IPC, read with Section 13 (2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act), all three were sentenced to simple imprisonment of six months and a fine of ₹10,000 each.

 

Legal experts say the death of a public servant would have no effect on the criminal liability of Ms. Sasikala or her co-accused in a corruption case. The court would also decide on separate appeals filed against the release of attached properties allegedly held by Indo-Doha Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Pvt. Ltd., Signora Enterprises Pvt. Ltd., Ramraj Agro Mills Ltd., Meadow Agro Farms, and Riverway Agro Products.

The prosecution had alleged that these companies were operating “for and on behalf of Ms. Jayalalithaa.” The prosecution had submitted that in essence, these companies were used as receptacles of “ill-gotten” cash for which no explanation was given during investigation or during the trial.

Last Monday, Justice Ghose, on an urgent mentioning by Karnataka, had indicated that the verdict would come in a week’s time.

It has been seven months since the Supreme Court reserved the appeal for judgment on June 7, 2016, after 20 days of arguments. The hearing had started on February 23 last year.

The Bench had issued notice in July 2015 on the appeals, before taking a hiatus to study the records of the prolonged litigation over nearly two decades.

Some of the 10 points of challenge made by Karnataka in its appeal against the May 11, 2015 acquittal of the four accused by the Karnataka High Court’s Single Judge Bench of Justice C.R. Kumaraswamy include the valuation of buildings spread across 1,66,839.68 sqft to rental income from Sasi Enterprises to the wedding expenditure of Mr. Sudhakaran.

The trial court had fixed the total valuation at ₹22,53,92,344. But the total cost of ₹5.10 crore arrived at by the High Court was eventually found to be even less than what the accused persons themselves admitted was the cost, ₹ 8,60,59,261.

Again, the High Court had reduced the marriage expenditure of co-accused and “foster son” Mr. Sudhakaran from ₹3,00,00,000 arrived at by the trial court to a “paltry sum” of ₹28.68 lakh on the basis of Ms. Jayalalithaa’s IT statement.

The Karnataka government said the “most serious and glaring infirmity” in the High Court’s verdict judgment was how loans were considered as income. It had challenged the “mathematical error” in the judgment, saying the totalling of all 10 loans came to only ₹10.67 crore and not ₹24.17 crore. The HC judgment had treated gifts worth ₹1.5 crore received by Ms. Jayalalithaa on her 44th birthday as her “lawful income.”

The trial court had rejected a plea by the accused that Sasi Enterprises (a partnership firm between Ms. Jayalalithaa and Ms. Sasikala Natarjan) had a rental income of Rs. 12,60,800 and only Rs. 6,15,900 was taken into consideration by the prosecution. The prosecution contended that the High Court had arrived at an “abstract figure” of Rs. 25,00,000 based on “guess work.”

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