Sasikala and her co-accused, Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran, to pay a fine of Rs 10 crore each
New Delhi, 14 February 2017. The Supreme Court on Tuesday set aside AIADMK general secretary V K Sasikala’s acquittal by the Karnataka High Court in the Jayalalithaa disproportionate assets case and “restored in full” the trial court conviction of September 2014.
A Bench of Justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy also set aside the acquittal of her two co-accused J Ilavarasi and V N Sudhakaran and restored their conviction in the case. The SC said the appeals filed by Karnataka government and others, including DMK leader K Anbazhagan, against the former Chief Minister has abated after her death on December 5, 2016.
The Supreme Court ordered Sasikala, Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran to surrender forthwith before the trial court concerned.
Even after Sasikala comes out after serving her four-year sentence, she would be disqualified to contest elections for the next six years as per the Supreme Court judgment in Lily Thomas versus Union of India of July 2013.
The voluminous main judgment authored by Justice Ghose held that the trial court conviction of the three accused, A2 to A4, on 27 September 2014 has been restored in full along with the consequent directions, including payment of fine and attachment of properties.
Fine of Rs 10 crore
The trial court had sentenced Sasikala, Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran under Section 109 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 pay a fine of Rs. 10 crore each.
In case of default, they would have to 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 for six months and a fine of Rs. 10,000 each.
Special Judge John Michael Cunha had ordered the attachment properties held by Indo-Doha Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Pvt Ltd, Signora Enterprises Pvt Ltd, Ramraj Agro Mills Ltd, Meadow Agro Farms, 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 nor during the trial.
In his separate but concurring judgment, Justice Roy said in the open court that he had expressed the court’s “deep concern about escalating corruption in the society.”
The judgment has come seven months since the Supreme Court reserved the appeal for judgment on June 7, 2016 after 20 days of hearing arguments. The hearing had started on February 23 last year.
The Bench had issued notice in July 2015 on the appeals. In its arguments, the State government had argued that the bare fact that it was neither considered nor ignored as the “sole prosecuting agency” in the corruption case would by itself vitiate the High Court judgment.
The State wanted the Supreme Court to address on what would be the effect of not repairing this omission throughout the appeal hearings in the High Court till they were disposed off.
The State’s document filed by advocate Joseph Aristotle and settled by senior advocate B V Acharya, had contended that its appeals were not vitiated as the duly appointed Public Prosecutor was “never given the opportunity” of an oral hearing.
His role was reduced to just handing over written submission, that too on the orders of the Supreme Court, at the fag end of the appeals in the High Court.
The State government pointed out that the acquittal can be set aside by just correcting the “totalling mistake” to show that the disproportionate assets of the accused comes to Rs 16.32 crore, that is 76.7% of the income as against the 8.12% arrived at by the High Court.
“Consequently, the judgment of acquittal is liable to be converted into one of conviction even as per the purported principle in Krishnanand Agnihotri’s case,” the State government contended.
The 1977 case law, quoted by the High Court, had held that an offence was not made out if disproportionate assets was found to be less than 10% of the income. It said the logic does not apply in this case in which the disproportionate assets run to crores.
‘No authority to interfere in TN’s affairs’
The defence counsel had argued that Karnataka had no authority to “interfere in the internal affairs of Tamil Nadu” and a violation of the federal scheme enshrined in the Constitution. They had invoked Article 162 of the Constitution, which prescribed that the executive power of the State Executive is co-extensive with that of the State Legislature.
The defence had argued that only Tamil Nadu had the “exclusive jurisdiction” to file the special leave petition or appeal against the Karnataka High Court judgment of acquittal on May 11, 2015 as Ms. Jayalalithaa was a “public servant of the State of Tamil Nadu.”
The defence had asked whether Karnataka was entitled to maintain the petition against the High Court’s judgment setting aside the confiscation of assets of five companies which the prosecution alleged were owned by the accused persons. That too when there was no charge levelled under the Benami Prohibition Act.