T.N. Minister Ponmudy, his wife, sentenced to three years of simple imprisonment in disproportionate assets case

Justice G. Jayachandran of the Madras High Court, however, grants them 30 days to surrender before a special court for Prevention of Corruption Act cases in Villupuram

Updated - December 21, 2023 07:59 pm IST

Published - December 21, 2023 11:19 am IST - CHENNAI

Tamil Minister for Higher Education coming out of the Madras High Court after the court sentenced him to three years of simple imprisonment on December 21, 2023

Tamil Minister for Higher Education coming out of the Madras High Court after the court sentenced him to three years of simple imprisonment on December 21, 2023 | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

The Madras High Court on Thursday, December 21, 2023, sentenced T.N. Higher Education Minister K. Ponmudy and his wife P. Visalakshi to three years of simple imprisonment in one of the disproportionate asset cases in which they were convicted on Tuesday after the reversal of their 2016 acquittal by a trial court.

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Justice G. Jayachandran also imposed a fine of ₹50 lakh each on the both the convicts and ordered that they must undergo imprisonment for six more months if they fail to pay the fine amount imposed in view of the gravity of the offence of corruption.

Also Read: Why does T.N. Minister K. Ponmudy face disqualification as a legislator after his conviction? | Explained  

The judge, however, granted 30 days’ time for the couple to surrender before the special court for Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) cases in Villupuram so that they could approach the Supreme Court, in the meantime, challenging their conviction and sentence.

“In case, the accused persons fail to surrender on or before January 22, 2024, the trial court shall secure the accused by executing a warrant,” the judge wrote.

When Senior Counsel N.R. Elango pleaded for a longer time for the convicts to surrender, the judge said, they could approach the High Court once again and seek extension of time if there were any difficulties in seeking legal remedy before the apex court within 30 days.

Initially, Justice Jayachandran said, he would suspend the sentence for 30 days but since that procedure would require an application for suspension to be filed by the convicts and thereby make it a time consuming process, he granted the alternative remedy of 30 days’ time to surrender.

The judge had, on Tuesday, allowed a 2017 appeal filed by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption (DVAC) and set aside the April 18, 2016 acquittal order passed by the special court. Thereafter, he directed the convicts to appear before him on Thursday to decide the sentence.

Though the couple were given the option of appearing through video call, they chose to appear in person and the judge asked if they had any oral or written submission to make, as required under Section 235(2) of Code of Criminal Procedure, with respect to the quantum of sentence to be imposed on them.

The Minister and his wife submitted their medical records and said, they were suffering from multiple ailments. Further stating that they were 72 and 68 years old respectively, the convicts said, it was a “very old” case registered against them in 2011 for alleged offences that took place between 2006 and 2010.

Claiming to be innocent and referring to the 2016 acquittal order passed in their favour by the trial court, they urged the High Court to impose lesser punishment. After recording their submissions, the judge decided the quantum of punishment after balancing the aggravating as well as mitigating circumstances.

He said, the sentence of three year imprisonment and ₹1 crore in fine was being imposed considering the impact of such offences on society and that the time to surrender before the trial court was being given considering the age of the convicts and their health condition.

The judge, further, rejected a request to grant leave (permission) to appeal to the Supreme Court which would help in getting the appeals numbered directly without having to undergo an additional procedure of obtaining the leave of the apex court to prefer the appeals.

The judge said, the High Court could grant leave to appeal only if there were any doubts with regard to a substantial question of law involved in a case. “I am very clear about the law as far as this case is concerned,” he said and refused to grant leave to appeal.

At this point, Mr. Elango told the judge that the latter had signed in a file relating to attachment of properties belonging to the convicts when he served as Law Secretary to the State government in 2013. On being asked whether the attachment was related to the present case, the counsel replied in the affirmative.

“Is it? I am not aware of it,” the judge said. Mr. Elango stated that Justice Jayachandran had served as Law Secretary to the government, during his stint as a district judge, between July 22, 2011 and February 2, 2015 and that he had signed in the file related to attachement of properties on May 2, 2013.

However, dismissing it as an insignificant event, the judge said, “Even if this had been brought to my notice before hearing (the present DVAC appeal), I would not have recused myself.”

The present case relates to the charge of the Minister and his wife having amassed ₹1.7 crore, disproportionate to their known sources of income, when he held the portfolio of Higher Education and Mines in the DMK regime between 2006 and 2011. The DVAC had registered the case after the AIADMK came to power in May 2011.

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