The Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved judgment on appeals filed by Karnataka against the acquittal of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in a disproportionate assets case. A Bench of Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Amitava Roy finally closed the notebooks used by them to jot down the salient points of the arguments before lunch time on the twentieth day of the day-to-day arguments which started on February 23.
The Bench had issued notice in July 2015 on the appeals against acquittal by the Karnataka High Court on May 11 last year. It had sought the responses of Ms. Jayalalithaa and her three co-accused N. Sasikala, J. Elavarasi and V.N. Sudhakaran before taking a hiatus to study the records of the prolonged litigation over nearly two decades.
The Bench indicated last week that merely possessing assets disproportionate to known income does not amount to corruption unless the source of that income is illegal.
The Supreme Court judgment, when it is delivered, would mean closure to the wealth case haunting Tamil Nadu politics. The appeals were pending in the apex court when Ms. Jayalalithaa fought the Assembly elections recently and came back to power.
The Bench had also asked Karnataka to prove that the source of money was Ms. Jayalalithaa and asked the prosecution to show evidence to the extent that the source of money was illegal.
Tuesday's hearing was on the special leave petitions filed by Karnataka against the May 11 High Court judgment setting aside the trial court decision of September 27, 2014 to confiscate the immovable properties allegedly held by the four accused. In this regard, the trial court verdict had dealt with the assets of six companies allegedly attributed to the four accused.
These are Indo Doha Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Pvt Ltd., Signora Enterprises Pvt. Ltd., Ramraj Agro Mills Ltd., Meadow Agro Farms, Riverway Agro Products, Lex Property Development. The prosecution had alleged that these companies wereoperating “for and on behalf of Ms. Jayalalithaa”.
“In essence, these companies were used as receptacles of ill-gotten cash for which no explanation was given during investigation nor during the trial. Such cash becomes the basis for largescale property being purchased where all negotiations were done at the house of A-1 (Ms. Jayalalithaa),” senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, appearing for Karnataka, submitted.
Mr. Luthra submitted that unexplained/unaccounted cash inflows started when the co-accused of Ms. Jayalalithaa took over as additional directors of the companies without buying any shares. He submitted that the companies enjoyed inter-se transactions and even filed belated income tax returns, sometimes after a delay of five years. The companies, though incorporated before the check period, did not commence any business until the year 1994.
No locus standi
In his reply, senior advocate Harin Raval for Ms. Jayalalithaa questioned Karnataka's locus standi to file an appeal against the High Court judgment setting aside the attachment of the companies' assets.
“The property attached ultimately goes only to the State of Tamil Nadu. Therefore, Karnataka cannot said to be an aggrieved person and cannot have locus standi to file the appeals,” Mr. Raval said. He submitted that these special leave petitions were only a convoluted attempt on part of Karnataka to re-argue its main appeal against the acquittal. Mr. Raval said the definition of ‘corruption’ under the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act is not fulfilled by the fact of acquisition of assets as such, but depends on the inability of the public servant to satisfactorily account for the same.