The grounds of discharge of Kalanithi Maran and Dayanidhi Maran by a special CBI court in Delhi in the Aircel-Maxis case on Thursday is a big political victory for Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), not because M Karunanidhi's nephews are off the hook, but because it offers a clear ray of hope for Kanimozhi in the 2G scam case.
The judge of the CBI court let go of the Marans because, according to him, "perception or suspicion are not enough for criminal prosecution. The perception or suspicion is required to be investigated and supported by legally admissible evidence, which is wholly lacking in this case".
If the same legal yardstick is applied to Kanimozhi's alleged involvement in the 2G scam as well, the case against her is also likely to meet with the same fate because there is nothing that connects her and former communications minister A Raja, the main accused in the 2G scam, other than the fact that they were party colleagues. No wonder, her reaction to the Marans' discharge betrayed a sense of relief: "Finally law has prevailed and justice has been done."
In fact, this is the biggest political significance of this judgment. The discharge might be big for Dayanidhi Maran because he could now play victim and say that he had been vindicated; but for the DMK household, it might be the harbinger of betters things in the family because this line of judicial interpretation offers Kanimozhi tremendous hope.
The similarity between the cases — the one faced by the Marans and the one faced by Kanimozhi — in the light of the CBI court judgment is pretty straightforward.
This was what the Marans had been charged with: Dayanidhi Maran, as the Communications Minister, arm-twisted Aircel promoter, by not allowing him to operate in the seven circles that he had won cellular licenses for, into selling his company to a Malaysian conglomerate. In return, the latter invested in his brother's (Kalanithi) company. The verifiable fact in this case was that the Malaysian company had indeed invested in Kalanithi's company, that too at a premium, but there was nothing to prove that it was a kickback meant for Dayanidhi for forcefully getting the Aircel deal done in its favour. The mere fact that they were brothers and that Dayanidhi had stakes in Kalanithi's companies wasn't legally good enough to establish the trail of corruption.
And that's actually what the judge said on Thursday: "In the eyes of law, these grounds themselves are not enough to connect the money received in the company of Kalanithi Maran to Dayanidhi Maran. The three simple and ordinary facts that they are real brothers or that both are shareholders in some companies or that Dayanidhi may indicate their close association but nothing beyond that."
Now, let's look at the case against Kanimozhi.
According to the chargesheet by the Enforcement Directorate, Kalaignar TV, a Tamil TV channel in which she was a director, received ₹200 crore from DB group, one of the alleged beneficiaries of the allocation of 2G licenses by the then communications minister A Raja. The charge is that A Raja gave a DB group company the 2G license illegally and part of the kickback was paid to Kalaignar TV.
And what are the incontestable facts? That the TV channel indeed got the money, which it claimed was a loan which was repaid, and Raja and the alleged source of this money are accused in the 2G scam, just as the way Dayanidhi was the communications minister when Kalanithi's company received the Malaysian investment. However, just as there was nothing to link the investment in Kalanithi's company to Dayanidhi in the court's eyes, so far there hasn't been anything to directly link the money Kalaignar TV received and Raja's alleged corruption. Even if the deal between Raja and DB group is proved to be corrupt, is there anything to establish that what the TV channel received was part of the kickback meant for Raja?
Not really, going by the judicial scrutiny of the Marans by the CBI court.
In fact, this argument had already been advanced by Kanimozhi's lawyer in September last year when he said: "Read ED's case as it is and the court will come to the conclusion that there is no evidence against Kanimozhi." Interestingly, now there is no need to persist with an earlier argument by Kanimozhi that she was not a director of the company when the money reached the TV channel.
Kanimozhi and her lawyers must be delighted about the verdict on Thursday. It has certainly set a favourable precedent for them. The court is the same.
It's unfortunate that what looks like clear cases of corruption in the eyes of the CBI and ED are falling apart when they reach the courts because other than the colour and flourish that the investigating agencies use to put forward their case, there is no real legally tenable hard evidence to pin down the accused. As the court said, perceptions and suspicions are not good enough, they have to be converted into legally admissible evidence.
This is the problem in proving political corruption because the deals are legally, probably pre-emptively, sanitised. Politicians are super-smart and our investigative agencies and prosecutors are not smart enough or not serious enough. The only damage that these cases can cause is during the initial periods of arrest and remands, but once the accused are out on bail and finally when the cases reach the courts for trial, the charges often end up looking as mere conjectures.
Also on HuffPost