Jayalalithaa’s illegal asset case: Karnataka to appeal in Supreme Court!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
As a jolt to ambitions of Jayalalithaa who, upon her acquittal in the historic illegal assets case, retook the rein of Tamil Nadu as CM, Karnataka government has decided to appeal in Supreme Court against the apparently faulty judgment delivered by judge Kumaraswami of Karnataka High Court, acquitting her of all charges.
Ending three-week long suspense, Karnataka government on June 01 has decided to file an appeal in the Supreme Court against acquittal of actress turned Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and three others by Karnataka High Court in the disproportionate assets case.
In retrospect, Special Court Judge Michael D Cunha had on 27 September last held Jayalalithaa and three others guilty of corruption and awarded four years jail term, due to which she attracted disqualification as an MLA that divested her of Chief Ministership. The judge had also slapped a fine of Rs 100 crore on Jayalalithaa and Rs 10 crore each on three other convicts. Giving a clean chit to Jayalalithaa, Karnataka High Court had held that the judgment and findings recorded by the trial court convicting her and three others suffers from infirmity and it is not sustainable in law.
The Karnataka High Court gave a clean chit to the AIADMK chief and three others, clearing them of “all charges” in the 19-year-old case on 11 May, paving the way for return of Jayalalithaa as Chief Minister.
Acquitting Jayalalithaa and three others of “all the charges leveled against them”, the single bench judge Justice Kumaraswamy, in his 919-page judgment, had also quashed the order of the trial court relating to confiscation of the properties both movable and immovable.
On disproportionate assets, the judge had held that “it is relatively small. In the instant case, the disproportionate asset is less than 10 per cent and it is within permissible limit.”
“The percentage of disproportionate assets is 8.12 percent,” the judge had said. Her conviction last year meant that she was automatically disqualified as a lawmaker, but can contest again after her acquittal.
Ms Jayalalithaa, who has to win a seat in the state assembly within six months of being sworn in chief minister, will contest a by-election from Radhakrishnan Nagar constituency later this month. Jaya asked the silting AIADMK MLA to quit enabling herself to contest. Assembly elections are due in Tamil Nadu elections in less than a year.
The decision to challenge the 11 May verdict by Justice C R Kumaraswamy of the Karnataka High Court was taken at a cabinet meeting after the advice by the Special Public Prosecutor in the case B V Acharya and state Advocate General Ravivarma Kumar as also the state Law Department.
The Karnataka Law Minister Jayachandra said that Chief Minister has directed me to file an appeal in the Supreme Court immediately. The Supreme Court had specifically said Karnataka has stepped into the shoes of TN and it is the sole prosecuting agency for all matters related to the disproportionate assets case, he said. Replying to a query, he said Acharya will be the SPP in the case in the apex court. He said the SPP appointed on the direction of the Supreme Court had advised filing the appeal against the wrongful acquittal of Jayalalithaa and three others and even the AG and law Secretary had concurred with it. “And now the cabinet has decided to file the appeal,” he said, adding it was being done “legally on merit”.
Ms Jayalalithaa, 67, was sworn in as Chief Minister on May 23, after an eight-month break that was forced upon her when a court in Bengaluru found her guilty of amassing wealth beyond her income during her first term in office two decades ago. The ruling AIADMK chief was arrested for three weeks before getting bail from the Supreme Court. She appealed against her conviction in the High Court and won her case this month. The case against her was originally filed in 1996. In 2003, the trial was moved to neighbouring Karnataka to ensure that the politics of Tami Nadu would not influence the proceedings.
A fresh legal challenge to 67-year old Jayalalithaa has come nine days after she made a triumphant return as Chief Minister with O Panneerselvam making way for her following acquittal by the High Court. The state government had a 90-day deadline to file the appeal.
In the 11 May verdict that restored Chief Ministership and her right to contest elections to her, Jayalalithaa was acquitted of “all charges” in the 19-year old disproportionate assets case. Three other convicts, including her close aide Sasikala Natarajan, were also given a clean chit by the High Court.
Karnataka is the sole prosecuting agency in the case, which was transferred to Bengaluru from Tamil Nadu by the Supreme Court for a “fair” trial. Justice Kumaraswamy had set aside the trial court’s judgment which had sentenced Jayalalithaa and three others to four years in jail and allowed the appeals by all the four convicts.
AIADMK’s bitter rival DMK had raised the pitch for filing the appeal against acquittal while the original petitioner Subramanian Swamy had also said he would move the Supreme Court if Karnataka does not challenge the High Court verdict. In a way, Karnataka government has preempted both sources wanting to contest the acquittal in the apex court.
Ms Jayalalithaa’s arch rival, M Karunanidhi of the DMK said last week that the Karnataka government must file an appeal against her acquittal. He said in a statement that the DMK too would file its own appeal in the Supreme Court. In the national election last year, the DMK did not win a single seat in Tamil Nadu. Ms Jayalalithaa’s party, the AIADMK, won 37 of the state’s 39, to be the third largest party in the Lok Sabha, (lower house of parliament) after the BJP and the Congress.
As the Congress government in Karnataka has decided to appeal against the High Court verdict acquitting J Jayalalithaa in a corruption case, which cleared the way for her comeback as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister last week, Karnataka government appeal against the High Court verdict in the Supreme Court is the logical development on the issue. The state government Advocate General Ravivarma Kumar pointed out, had 90 days to decide on an appeal, but had done so in about 20 days after the High Court verdict.
Meanwhile, John Michael Cunha, who as Special Judge of the trial court had convicted Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in a disproportionate assets case, has been appointed as the Registrar General of the state High Court by the Karnataka government. Cunha, now holding the post of Registrar (Vigilance), High Court of Karnataka, will come in place of B A Patil who has been transferred, a government order said here. On September 27 last, Cunha had held Jayalalithaa and three others guilty of corruption in the 19-year-old disproportionate assets case and sentenced them to four years in prison and forfeiting her MLA position plus she was disqualified under the Representation of the People Act from contesting elections for a period of ten years—four years from the date of conviction and six years thereafter. However, she has got everything back with a faulty High Court judgment. Since her conviction was overturned by the Karnataka High Court on May 11, the AIADMK chief returned as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister for the fifth time on May 23.
Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram backed Karnataka Special Public Prosecutor B V Acharya’s advice to file an appeal against the acquittal of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate assets case. His comments in support of appeal in the apex court comes in the wake of Acharya and Advocate General Ravivarma Kumar advising the state government to file an appeal against the acquittal of Jayalalithaa, while the legal cell of ruling Congress in the state advising against filing an appeal.
Chidambaram, an eminent lawyer himself, said he does not give his opinion on judgments “publicly.” I did not comment when she was convicted, I do not comment when she is acquitted,” the senior Supreme Court advocate said.
Opposition parties in Tamil Nadu welcomed Karnataka government’s decision to appeal against Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s acquittal in a disproportionate assets case, with DMK terming it as the “right” step by the ruling Congress. “Karnataka has taken the right step. It is a welcome one,” party spokesperson T K S Elangovan told reporters here. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) President M Karunanidhi, besides other leaders, had been urging Karnataka government to appeal against Jayalalithaa’s acquittal. Tamil Nadu Congress Committee chief E V K S Elangovan lauded his party-led government in Karnataka for “quickly deciding” on approaching the apex court with an appeal before the 90-day deadline. In his reaction, Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) founder S Ramadoss, who had written to Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah asking his government to appeal against Jayalalithaa’s acquittal, said: “albeit a little delayed decision, it is a welcome one.”
He said he had been insisting that the verdict had “loopholes”. Ramadoss said if Karnataka government had immediately heeded to his demand, “at least Jayalalithaa becoming Chief Minister could have been avoided” by trying to secure a stay against the High Court verdict. B V Acharya, who was Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) in the case, should continue in the apex court also since he was aware of the nuances of the case, Ramadoss said.
BJP state unit President Tamizhisai Soundararajan said that since two different verdicts were given in this case–conviction by lower court and acquittal by High court-, the appeal will give “clarity” to the people of the state.
Tamil politicians say Karnataka should file an appeal, highlighting the loopholes and seek a stay order against the High Court judgment.
It appears the government of Karnataka, where Jayalalithaa originally belongs, coordinated their steps as Jayalalithaa assumed office of CM while Karnataka assembly began its session. Jayalalithaa knew before hand about the assembly and decided to be the CM and possibly coerced government to delay the appeal so that she could be CM albeit for a short period.
Obviously, a person who powerfully influenced the High court and got all punishments withdrawn is no ordinary manipulator.
One, however, has to wait for the ruling of Supreme Court for the final judgment.