Just when VK Sasikala's march to the chief minister's office seemed unstoppable, the Supreme Court came up with its verdict on the disproportionate assets case, in which the aspirant to Tamil Nadu's top job was a co-accused.
Nearly 20 years old now, the case had gone through many ups and downs, including the death of the prime accused, the late chief minister of the state, J Jayalalithaa, in December 2016. Here's a rundown through the years that brought the case to its conclusion, with the conviction of the four accused in it.
How did it all start?
In 1996, economist and politician Subramaniam Swamy filed a complaint against Jayalalithaa, or Amma as she is fondly called by her supporters, accusing her of amassing wealth that was disproportionate to known sources of her income during her first tenure as the CM of Tamil Nadu between 1991 and 1996. Soon after she lost power, Jayalalithaa was accused, along with three of her accomplices — her companion of several decades, Sasikala, her sister-in-law Elavarasi and nephew VN Sudhakaran (who Jayalalithaa had adopted as her own son) — of stashing away property, gold, silver and other items to the tune of ₹66.65 crores.
During raids on the premises of Jayalalithaa's Poes Garden residence in Chennai, 800 kg silver, 28 kg gold, 750 pairs of shoes, 10,500 sarees and 91 watches were seized. Apart of these confiscated items, a fleet of luxury cars and properties were linked to Jayalalithaa, while her accomplices were accused of abetting her crime by acting as benami owners of 32 private firms. The lavish arrangements at Jayalalithaa's foster son's wedding, on which several crores of rupees were spent, had also drawn the attention of her political rivals and the public.
Soon after Swamy's complaint, the newly-elected Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), arch rivals of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), filed a first information report (FIR) against Jayalalithaa. On the directions of the principle sessions court, the complaint was investigated and, in 1997, all four of the accused were charge-sheeted under the relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Prevention of Corruption Act. Of course, all of them denied the accusation and the trial began with the recording of the evidence.
Ups And Downs
In 2001, after Jayalalithaa returned to power in spite of the case hanging over her, DMK general secretary K Anbazhagan pleaded in the Supreme Court for the case to be transferred outside Tamil Nadu for the sake of impartiality. After two years, in 2003, the court granted the plea and the case was taken up afresh at a special court in Bengaluru, Karnataka.
Between 2010-11, the evidences were re-examined and Jayalalithaa was summoned to answer questions in the court. In the next two years, one special public prosecutor resigned, citing attempts to transfer him, a new one was appointed, fired, then re-instated by the court.
Finally, in 2014, the court found all four guilty. Jayalalithaa was sentenced to four years of simple imprisonment with a penalty of ₹100 crores, while her accomplices were subjected to a similar jail term, though fined ₹10 crores each. With her conviction, Jayalalithaa became unqualified to carry on as chief minister and for the membership of the Legislative Assembly under the Representation of the People Act.
Her trusted aide O Panneerselvam took over the role, as he had done in 2001-02 for six months when Amma was convicted in the TANSI land deal scam. Jayalalithaa appealed for bail in the Karnataka High Court but it was rejected twice, until the Supreme Court granted it to her in October 2014.
In May 2015, the Karnataka High Court acquitted Jayalalithaa and her co-accused of all charges, making it possible for her to become the chief minister of the state for the fifth term. The court admitted of having mixed up the calculation of assets to arrive erroneously at the ₹66.65 crores figure. As The Indian Express said, "The judge noted that the percentage of disproportionate assets was just 8.12%, whereas an SC ruling had held that in case of disproportionate assets up to 10%, the accused were entitled to be acquitted."
This wasn't, however, the end of the matter.
The Karnataka government challenged the acquittal in the Supreme Court, disputing the calculation of the high court judge again. In June 2016, Justices PC Ghose and Amitava Roy of the SC reversed the verdict on the appeals against the HC order. While a decision was pending, Jayalalithaa took ill and died in December last year.
On 14 February 2017, the Supreme Court convicted Sasikala in the DA case, sentencing her to four years' of prison, along with the three other accused. Both the judges on the bench came to a unanimous verdict in two separate judgements, based on a new calculation of the disputed assets in questions.
Apart from spending time in jail, she won't be able to run for the chief minister's office for 6 more years, delaying her chances to get to the top seat by 10 years. She is expected to surrender in Bengaluru though the modalities of it are being worked out at the moment.
According to the provisions stated under Section 394 of the Criminal Procedure Code, charges against the deceased would abate, though the verdict would certainly put a blight on Jayalalithaa's legacy.
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