‘System failed’: Madras HC on discharge of two politicians in corruption cases

The cases of Minister of Rural Development I Periyasamy and former minister and AIADMK leader B Valarmathi, both of whom were discharged of charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act, have been taken up by the High Court.
‘System failed’: Madras HC on discharge of two politicians in corruption cases
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The Madras High Court has yet again taken suo motu revision of the discharging of two Tamil Nadu Ministers from corruption cases. On Friday, September 8, Justice N Anand Venkatesh took up the cases of Minister of Rural Development I Periyasamy and former minister and AIADMK leader B Valarmathi, both of whom were discharged by Special Courts from cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act. While taking up the revision of the case against Periyasamy, the judge observed that the “system has failed systematically” and that the conduct of the Special Court in this case was “thoroughly condemnable”.

The judge had previously undertaken suo motu revisions of the cases against Ministers K Ponmudy, KKSSR Ramachandran, and Thangam Thennarasu, and former chief minister O Panneerselvam. Stating that the court had identified several serious procedural irregularities and illegalities that eventually led to the discharge of the accused from the prosecutions against them, it stated that the case of I Periyasamy was “yet another textbook case of how the criminal justice system has been successfully subverted from within”. “It is a model for all the wrong reasons, for it offers a panoramic view of all known legal techniques available in the armoury to derail trial and to ensure that the wheels of the criminal justice system come to a creaking halt,” Justice Venkatesh said in the order.

Justice Venkatesh had observed in open court that he was growing tired of such cases. “It's like I've opened a can of worms. Case after case, I'm becoming sick. The system has failed systematically. It's becoming shocking. You can give any interpretation but these are facts. I'm tired of looking at cases like this on a regular basis … It is an institutional problem. The system has failed. I do not know how much of this is going to help,” LiveLaw reported him as saying.

Case against Minister Periyasamy 

The court also observed that the order passed by the Additional Special Court for MP/MLA cases in Chennai on March 17, 2023, discharging Minister Periyasamy from his case suffered from “several incurable legal blunders and illegalities”, which resulted in a gross miscarriage of justice. Stating that it was beyond “the endurance of judicially trained minds to turn a blind eye to such lapses, particularly when it is so palpable”, the court invoked section 397 (powers of revision) and 401 (High Court's powers of revision) of the CrPC, and Article 227 (power of superintendence over all courts by the High Court) to take suo motu revision of the case.

The case against Minister Periyasamy dates back to 2008 when he was the minister for Housing in the DMK regime. He had allegedly allotted a plot of the Tamil Nadu Housing Board (TNHB) to former CM M Karunanidhi’s personal security officer C Ganesan under the state government’s discretionary quota. In 2011, when AIADMK came to power, this case was taken up for investigation. The court observed, “In May 2011, the DMK, of which A3 [Periyasamy] was a Minister, was voted out of power. In keeping with the usual practice of the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC), with the change in power, the alleged wrongdoings of the past regime became the focal point for investigation.”

Ganesan was appointed as the CM’s personal security officer when he was an inspector with the security wing of the Special Branch-Criminal Investigation Department (SB-CID). The prosecution had argued that even though he was residing in a TNHB quarters with his family, he falsely claimed that he was living in a private residence and sought a TNHB plot. He was immediately allotted a plot under the Mogappair Eri scheme under the “impeccable honest government servant” discretionary quota. The court observes that the application was “processed at breakneck speed” and approved by Periyasamy within 48 hours. Ganesan, real estate developer K Kavitha, and Periyasamy were listed as accused in the case registered by DVAC under Prevention of Corruption Act.

The court observed that the accused in the case were “playing musical chairs by filing discharge petitions one after another” to delay court proceedings. The court took note of the fact that Periyasamy contended in his initial discharge petition that the case was borne out of malice, which was rejected by the Special Court, the High Court, as well as the Supreme Court.

Eventually, on February 21, 2023, Periyasamy had filed another discharge petition under section 19 (previous sanction necessary for prosecution) of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Stating that the court thought it was a typographical error, it said that on closer scrutiny, it became clear that it was part of “a well-orchestrated plot” to short-circuit the proceedings before the Special Court. “It is at this juncture that the portals of the Special Court suddenly turn into a circus for A3 Periyasamy to demonstrate his skill in litigative gymnastics,” the court said.

Observing that the Special Court entertained this petition and discharged the Minister from the case, the judge said, “It is shocking that the Special Court, which is expected to possess at least a working knowledge of criminal law and procedure, has entertained a petition under Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act to discharge the accused knowing fully well that the provision did not deal with discharge at all.”

Former minister Valarmathi’s case

The court observed that the case of former minister Valarmathi’s discharge follows a well-established pattern, “where the DVAC registers a case against a former minister, completes an investigation, and files a final report. In the meantime, the Opposition returns to power and the former minister finds herself back in the political saddle. Discharge petitions are quickly filed and allowed as soon as the minister returns to power thereby precluding any challenge to the order before this Court during the remaining spell of the government.”

The case against B Valarmathi is from the period 2001-2006 when she served as the Minister for Social Welfare Development and Minister for Rural Industries. In 2007, DVAC had registered a case against Valarmathi, her husband, and her two sons for amassing disproportionate wealth to the tune of Rs 1.7 crore. The court observed that this case, like the previous ones, changed direction after a change in government.

“It is, therefore, evident that after the change in power in the state in 2011, the DVAC had once again acted as the proverbial chameleon dancing to the tunes of the politicians in power. This is not the first time this Court has encountered this condemnable practice of the DVAC … It is unfortunate that a premier investigation agency of the state has become a plaything in the hands of politicians,” the judge said. The court also noted that it was “strange and ironic” that the investigating officer G Sambandam who filed the chargesheet accusing Valarmathi, later filed a counter affidavit saying that the accused did not acquire wealth during the said period.

Stating that orders of discharge by the Special Court “reveal several palpable errors that are impossible for any trained legal mind to ignore”, the court initiated suo motu revision of the case.

Read: Madras HC Judge turns whistleblower, alleges illegalities in DMK leader Ponmudy’s acquittal

Also Read: ‘Illegal and gross miscarriage of justice’: Madras HC on acquittal of DMK ministers

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