Value of disproportionate assets: Supreme Court likely to cancel the Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa’s acquittal order!
Dr. Abdul Ruff
The Karnataka Government has filed an appeal before the Supreme Court of India against the acquittal of Jayalalithaa by the Karnataka High Court. The Karnataka Government would open its arguments in the appeal filed against the acquittal of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J Jayalalithaa by pointing out that it was allowed only a written submission. The matter will be heard on a day to day basis by the Supreme Court from February 2 onwards.
Represented by the Special Public Prosecutor, B V Acharya, Karnataka would make out a straight forward case on why the order of acquittal should be set aside. Karnataka will contend before the Supreme Court “We were never given an opportunity of an oral hearing by the Karnataka High Court. At the fag end of the arguments on the appeal before the High Court, we were just permitted to hand out a written submission. Just correct one glaring error”.
Jayalalithaa was convicted by a special court in a Rs 66 crore corruption case last September which led to her being unseated as Chief Minister. A subsequent Bangalore High Court appeal in May 2015 overturned the sentence, acquitting her of all charges and paving the way for her takeover as CM once again. Jaya won an MLA seat in a bypoll scheduled for the Radhakrishnan Nagar constituency in Chennai on June 27.
In May, the Karnataka High Court found that there was no evidence that while in office, Ms Jayalalithaa had accumulated more than Rs. 60 crore that could not be explained by her declared income. At the time, she famously drew Rs. 1 as a monthly salary. The judge said that her wealth had increased by about 10 per cent during her first term, which was permissible. In its appeal, the Karnataka government has said the judge’s math was faulty. The totaling mistake shows that the value of disproportionate assets of the accused comes to Rs. 16.32 crore that is 76.7 per cent of the income, against the 8.12 per cent arrived at by the High Court.
The Karnataka government, after much deliberation, finally filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, asking it to set aside the Bangalore High Court judgment of May 2015 which acquitted Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa of all charges in a 19-year-old disproportionate assets case. In its interim prayer, Special Public Prosecutor BV Acharya has asked for a stay on the High Court order until the petition is disposed of.
In a stinging rebuke of the High Court’s order, the SLP calls for setting aside a judgment that “lacks reasoning, is not logical and is cryptic. The evidence has not been considered objectively and lacks deliberation. The judgment is not resolutely expressed.” The five key points that are raised in the petition challenging Jayalalithaa’s acquittal were published by on May 19. “Simply put, there are five key points,” said Sandesh Chouta, Acharya’s junior counsel. “(1) Despite the Supreme Court holding that the prosecuting agency in the case is the Karnataka government, Karnataka was not made a party in the appeal; (2) The prosecutor appointed by Karnataka was not given an opportunity to present oral arguments; (3) Arithmetic errors are many – even if you accept everything in the High Court order, the proportion of disproportionate assets comes to 34% and not 8.12% as said by the judge; (4) If corrections are carried out to the duplication of income in the judgment, the quantum of disproportionate assets goes up to 76%, and (5) The figures accepted by the High Court are far less than those given by the accused themselves, which is incorrect,” he said.
The petition argues that the acquittal of Jayalalithaa must be overturned as the case is against a person who was “holding a position of Chief Minister of a State at the time of the commission of the offence. The charges are grave. The order of acquittal has resulted in gross miscarriage of justice. A totalling mistake has resulted in acquittal instead of an order confirming conviction… if the said judgment of the Hon’ble High Court is not stayed, it would result in travesty of justice,” it says.
Apart from the technical points raised in the miscalculation of assets and income, the petition also slams Justice Kumaraswamy of the Bangalore High Court for passing an erroneous order.
In a major victory for AIADMK, a special bench of the Karnataka High Court set aside the trial court order convicting former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate assets case. The value of disproportionate assets was Rs. 2.82 crore and this value was not enough to convict them on charges of corruption, said Justice C.R. Kumaraswamy in his verdict while disagreeing with the verdict of the Special Court, which had computed the value of DA at Rs. 53.6 crore. The Apex Court is expected to set aside the acquittal judgment favoring Jayalalithaa who since has reassumed the office of chief minister of Tamil Nadu.
Karnataka Government, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader K. Anbazhagan and on the intervention application filed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy, had sought stay on the acquittal.
The Karnataka government has repeatedly spoken about the arithmetic error made by the High Court as a result of which Jayalalithaa and three others got the benefit of an acquittal. The acquittal can be set aside by correcting one error, Karnataka will also contend in the Supreme Court. The Karnataka government had said in a petition to the Supreme Court that Ms Jayalalithaa’s acquittal by the state High Court was a “farce.” The Supreme Court in July issued notice to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa after Karnataka’s appeal against her acquittal in a corruption case.
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 1977 case law which the High Court has relied on holds that an offence was not made out if the value of disproportionate assets was found to be less than 10 per cent of the income. This cannot be relied on here as the disproportionate assets runs into crores of rupees.
Earlier on July 27, 2015 the Supreme Court refused to stay the Karnataka HC acquittal of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate assets case. A Bench comprising Justice P.C. Ghose and Justice R.K. Agrawal issued notices to Ms. Jayalalithaa, her close aide N. Sasikala, V.N. Sudhakaran, J. Elavarasi. The Apex Court also issued notice to a separate petition filed by Mr. Anbazhagan challenging the Karnataka HC stay order setting aside confiscation of properties of the accused in the name of Indo-Doha Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Pvt Ltd., Signora Enterprises Pvt. Ltd., Ramraj Agro Mills Ltd., Meadow Agro Farms, Riverway Agro Products.
The Karnataka Government was represented by Special Public Prosecutor B.V. Acharya, Mr. Anbazhagan was represented by senior advocate T.R. Andhyarujina, Supreme Court advocate V.G. Pragasam. Ms. Jayalalithaa was represented by L. Nageshwar Rao. The six firms involved in the case were represented by C.A. Sundaram. During the hearing Justice Ghose said at one point that the Bench had gone through all the documents and were issuing the notice. When Mr. Acharya asked for a conditional order of stay, Justice Ghose said, “It may be a very important matter for you, but for us, this is nothing, we will decide as per law.”
The nearly two-decades-old case against the former movie star was transferred from Tamil Nadu to neighbouring Karnataka in 2003 to ensure the trial would not be impacted by the influence of either Ms Jayalalithaa or her political opponents. The verdict allowed Ms Jayalalithaa to return as Chief Minister eight months after she was forced to resign when a lower court in Bangalore found her guilty in the same case and sentenced her to four years in prison.
Meanwhile, Congress president Sonia Gandhi was of the view that former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s acquittal in a high-profile corruption case must be challenged in the Supreme Court. Whatever the truth, now that all the details have come to light, the Congress apparently does not intend to be saddled with the reputation of being the party that let Jayalalithaa off the hook in a corruption matter.
Supreme Court likely to cancel the CM Jayalalithaa’s acquittal but the impact of her losing power once again on the forthcoming state elections could be profound.
While the DMK party has every reason to be ready for a celebration as Supreme Court is likely to deliver the final judgment soon, the ruling AIADMK party could feel happy it could rule the Tamil state for a few months in the mean time as an erroneous judgment was delivered in Jaya’s favor.