Sasikala’s political career has hit a roadblock even before it took off. The Supreme Court set aside the Karnataka High Court verdict acquitting Sasikala, her niece Ilavarasi, nephew VN Sudhakaran and late CM Jayalalithaa in the Disproportionate Assets case.
In doing so, the apex court has restored the Special Court’s judgement by Michael D’Cunha in September 2014 with penalties, which convicted all four accused in the 20-year-old corruption case.
At this stage, while the special court verdict stands, Sasikala cannot contest elections for the next 10 years. This is because she was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment by Justice Cunha, and stands disqualified from membership of the TN Assembly for a further six years.
The AIADMK General Secretary who was elected as leader of the Legislature Party on February 5, will as a result be ineligible to contest for bye-elections.
The court has asked Sasikala to surrender immediately to complete her 4-year jail term awarded by the Special Court. The Special Court had also imposed a penatly of Rs 10 crore on Sasikala, Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran and this penalty stands with Tuesday's Supreme Court verdict.
Justice PC Ghosh said in court that it was a "fatty judgment". Justice Amitvava Roy said that it was a "well considered" judgment.
The bench comprising of Justices PC Ghose and AK Roy pronounced their verdict in Court Hall 6 on Tuesday. It comes more than eight months after orders were reserved by the Supreme Court on the appeals filed by the Karnataka government against the acquittal of Jayalalithaa, Sasikala, Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran.
The verdict will come as a shot in the arm for incumbent Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, who has been engaged in a high-decibel political battle with Sasikala. OPS, who had the support of 7 MLAs is likely to see several legislators now defect to his camp.
The Disproportionate Assets case was registered in 1997 against Jayalalithaa after her term as Chief Minister from 1991 to 1996. The charges were regarding a disproportionate jump in her wealth from Rs 2.01 crore in 1991, to Rs 66.65 crore in 1996 - not comparable to her declared sources of income.
Registered in 1997 against Jayalalithaa after her term as chief minister from 1991 to 1996, the charges were regarding a disproportionate jump in her wealth from Rs. 2.01 crore in 1991 to Rs. 66.65 crore in 1996, not comparable to her declared sources of income.
The chargesheet in the case was filed in 1997 and trial began in Chennai in 2000. But the case was moved to Bangalore in 2003 on a plea by the DMK, that claimed that a trial in Chennai would be “unfair” as Jayalalithaa had become the Chief Minister again in 2001. During that period, Jayalalithaa had declared her monthly salary to be Re. 1, which highlighted the point that her income was not proportionate to her assets.
Major allegations in chargesheet
The chargesheet filed under the Prevention of Corruption Act said that the accused in the case, Jayalalithaa, her aide Sasikala, Sasikala’s nephew and Jayalalithaa’s foster son Sudhakaran and Sasikala’s sister-in-law Ilavarasi, had opened over 32 shell companies, some in benami names. Sasikala, Ilaivarasai and Sudhakaran were made directors in many of these companies.
The chargesheet says that several crore rupees were deposited through cheques, demand drafts and sometimes cash into accounts of these companies and was later transferred to accounts of Namadu MGR (a publication run by AIADMK) and a cable company called Super Duper.
One of the main witnesses questioned in the case was a man named Rama Vijayan, who used to work at Jayalalithaa’s residence in Poes Garden and was apparently in-charge of depositing money. The investigators had recovered pay-in slips and details of bank transactions, which were later confirmed by Rama Vijayan.
The chargesheet also mentions Jayalalithaa’s foster son Sudhakaran’s wedding in Chennai, on which an estimated Rs 6 crores was splurged. (Jayalalithaa’s defense has said in court that these expenses were borne by the bride’s side.)
Jayalalithaa is also accused of building and renovating three posh residences at Kodanadu (Ooty), Siruthavur (Kancheepuram) and Poes Garden (Chennai).
PWD estimated that renovation costs at her Poes Garden residence cost an estimated Rs. 5 crore and was included in the chargesheet.
The properties bought by companies owned by her from Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation (TANSI) were said to have cost Rs 1 crore.
In addition to this, Sudhakaran was accused of purchasing many properties along with Sasikala and Ilaivarasi that included Ramraj Agro Mills (Coimbatore), Maha Subbalakshmi Wedding hall (Chennai), a chemical company in Chennai, 1000 acres of land in Tirunelveli and an agro farm in addition to other properties.
Some properties bought in Chennai including a building in Mylapore, a plot at Guindy Industrial estate and two apartments, which were also included in the chargesheet.
Jayalalithaa’s lawyers have maintained throughout the trial that:
a. She, being an actress of yesteryears, had enough wealth to make some of the purchases.
b. She and others had no connection with many of the companies mentioned in case.
c. The money collected and deposited into Namadu MGR account was legitimate and were subscription deposits paid by crores of AIADMK workers across state.
d. The DMK government-led investigation has deliberately over valued all the assets in their possession.
e. The investigating officer Nallama Naidu had not done his job effectively as a preliminary enquiry had not been conducted in the case.
What the prosecution said
a. Investigating officer for the case Nallama Naidu had got all sale deeds for all properties and made enquiries with people who sold the properties. There were 259 witnesses of which many were people who sold properties.
b. Jayalalithaa had not filed IT returns for this term and the ones filed later also did not show this much wealth.
c. Subscription deposits collected by Namadu MGR was illegal as it had no RBI sanction.
d. Sasikala, Ilaivarasi and Sudhakaran had no means of income to justify the wealth amassed.
e. Shell companies were purchased to divert money easily.
Conviction by Special Court in 2014
In September 2014, Jayalalithaa was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. A fine of Rs 100 crore was imposed on her. Her co-accused, VK Sasikala, V Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi, were also sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, and a fine of Rs 10 crore each.
In October 2014, the Supreme Court suspended the four-year sentence granted bail to all the four accused.
Acquittal by High Court in 2015
In May 2015, Justice CR Kumaraswamy of the Karnataka high court acquitted Jayalalithaa and three others in the case, stating that when there is disproportionate asset to the extent of 10%, the accused are entitled for acquittal. He calculated that the assets were disproportional only to the extent of 8%.
This verdict was then appealed against at the Supreme Court.