By Ashish, Faculty of Law, The ICFAI University.
APPELLANT/ACCUSED is convicted for the offences as under:
Offences punishable under Section 13(1)(e) read with Section 13(2) of Prevention of Corruption Act.
Offences punishable under Section 120-B of Indian Penal Code read with Section 13(1)(e) with Section 13(2) of Prevention of Corruption Act.
Jayalalitha, the great influencing leader of one of the India’s biggest political party and former movie star, was acquitted from the Disproportionate Asset Case by the Karnataka High Court, making her way clear to become the chief minister of Tamil Nadu once again.
The case was filed by Subramanian Swamy in 1996 accusing Jayalalitha for amassing properties worth R.s. 66 Cr. during her tenure as chief minister from 1991-96. The assets under the purview of the case are the farm house and bungalow in Chennai, agricultural land in Tamil Nadu, a farm house in Hyderabad, a tea estate, valuable jewellery, industrial sheds, cash deposits and investments in banks and a set of luxury car.
A raid in her garden residence in 1997 recovered 800 kg (1,800 lbs.of) silver, 28 kg (62 lbs.) gold, 750 pairs of shoes, 10,500 sarees, 91 watches and other valuables. The valuables were kept in a vault in Reserve Bank of India in Chennai. The opposition party petitioned to request the court to take the control of the assets. She was arrested and jailed for some days after DMK came in to the power in the 1996 Tamil Nadu Assembly polls. The trial went on for 18 years and was transferred to Bangalore from Chennai. Jayalalitha, who has waged many legal battles and seen many ups and downs in her political career, had to quit as chief minister immediately and she had been sentenced to two years of rigorous imprisonment in a corruption case. O Paneerselvan, a junior Minister in her Council of Ministers, was appointed as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
The case had political implications as it was the first case where a ruling Chief minister had to step down on account of a court sentence. She was convicted for the third time overall and was forced to step down from the Chief Minister’s office for the second time. She was also the seventh politician and the first MLA from the state and third overall to be disqualified after the Supreme Court judgment in July 2013 on the Representation of People’s Act that prevents convicted politicians from holding office.
In September 2014, Jayalalitha, 67 year of age, was sentenced to four years of imprisonment by 36th Additional City Civil and Session Judge after being found guilty of accumulating wealth beyond her known sources of income from 1991-96 in her first term as Chief Minister in the case that has seen many political and legal twists and turns.
In addition to the prison term, the court also asked her to pay a fine of one billion rupees. Three other of her asides were also sent to prison by the court at that time.
A bail application was filed in the Supreme Court by the convicted for higher appeal and releasing them in bail during the trial in High Court. The Supreme Court granted bail for all the four convicted on 17 October 2014 and stipulated a timeline of three months for the completion of the appeal. On 18 December 2014, Supreme Court extended her bail by four months and ordered that her appeal challenging conviction in Karnataka High Court be conducted on day-to-day basis by a Special Bench.
Ms. Jayalalitha had been granted bail by the Supreme Court on medical grounds in October and appealed against the conviction in the Karnataka High Court. She and her three asides have denied any wrongdoing.
In May 2015, a single judge bench of the Karnataka High Court overturned the trial court’s verdict and acquitted Jayalalitha and others of all charges. This paved the way for Jayalalitha’s return to power as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu on the 23rd of May, 2015 Ms Jayalalitha’s supporters call her “Amma”, meaning mother celebrated outside her home in Chennai following the court’s decision to overturn her. All the supporters showed a sign of worship by dancing and pouring milk on her picture.
The decision of the High Court would have a significant impact on her political career and now she became free to take over as Chief Minister again. She emerged as a phoenix.
Subramanian Swamy, the petitioner in the case against Ms Jayalalitha and a politician said in press conference that he was shocked and surprised at the acquittal. Also he said that he didn’t expect this verdict and he will lodge further appeal against it.
Case: KRISHNANAND AGNIHOTRI V/S. STATE OF M.P, AIR 1977 SC 796
“It will, therefore, be seen that as against an aggregate surplus income of Rs.44, 383.59 which was available to the appellant during the period in question, the appellant possessed total assets worth Rs.55, 732.25. The assets possessed by the appellant were thus in excess of the surplus income available to him, but since the excess is comparatively very small – it is less than 10%, of the total income of Rs.1, 27,715.43.The court do not think it would be right to hold that the assets found in possession of the appellant were disproportionate to his known source of income so as to justify the raising of presumption under sub-Section (3) of Section 5. We are of the view that, on the facts of the present case, the High Court as well as the Special Judge were in error in raising the presumption contained in sub-Section(3) of Section 5 and convicting the appellant on the basis of such presumption.
Applying the principle laid-down in above mentioned Krishnanand Agnihotri’s Case, statements showing the calculation of Total Assets and Income of accused, firms and companies and arriving at the percentage of disproportionate assets thereof, are as under:
TOTAL ASSETS- 37, 59, 02,466
Statement of the income of accused, firms and companies are as under:
TOTAL INCOME- 34, 76, 65,654
Total Assets -Total Income=Rs.37, 59, 02,466 – Rs.34, 76, 65,654= Rs.2, 82, 36,812
Percentage- Disproportionate assets x 100/Income
= Rs.2, 82, 36,812 x 100/Rs.34, 76, 65,654
It is well settled law that according to Krishnanand Agnihotri’s case, when there is disproportionate asset to the extent of 10%, the accused are entitled for acquittal.
A circular has been issued by the Government of Andhra Pradesh that disproportionate asset to the extent of 20% can also be considered as a permissible limit. The margin of 10% to 20% of the disproportionate assets has been taken as a permissible limit, taking into consideration the inflatory
In view of the above discussion, the Court passed the following order:
Criminal Appeal is allowed:
The Judgment of Conviction and Sentence passed by 36th Additional City Civil & Sessions Judge is hereby set-aside. Appellant/Accused is acquitted of all the charges levelled against her.
The bail bond of the accused is discharged.
The appeal is allowed in part.
Order of the Trial Court relating to confiscation of the properties both movable and immovable, is hereby set aside.