DMK Minister K Ponmudy and his wife Visalakshi were sentenced to three years imprisonment by the Madras High Court on Thursday, December 21, in a disproportionate assets case. Ponmudy (72), the MLA from Tirukoilur Assembly constituency, stands disqualified as a legislator as per section 8(1) of the Representation of the People Act, which says that a person convicted for various offences, including provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act, shall be disqualified for a period of six years.
Since Ponmudy has been sentenced to imprisonment for three years, he would stand disqualified for three plus six years, according to section 8(1). However, the judge has suspended the sentence for 30 days, which means Ponmudy and his wife can approach a higher court for relief. The judge has also imposed a fine of Rs 50 lakh.
Ponmudy’s lawyer, NR Elango, had asked the court to be lenient and give minimum punishment, keeping in mind Ponmudy and his wife’s advanced age and their health condition.
Ponmudy (A1), who is the Minister of Higher Education, and his wife P Visalakshi (A2) were accused of amassing assets worth Rs 1.72 crore, beyond their source of income when he was serving as the Minister for Higher Education and Mines between 2006-2011. The case was registered against them by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-corruption (DVAC) in 2011 after the AIADMK party under Jayalalithaa formed the government. Though the trial court had acquitted the duo in 2016, Justice G Jayachandran of the Madras High Court found that Ponmudy and his wife had 65% disproportionate assets.
In its order, the Madras High Court said, “This court, considering the overwhelming evidence against the respondents and the unsustainable reasons given by the trial Court for acquittal by ignoring those evidence compel this court to declare the judgement of the trial court is palpably wrong, manifestly erroneous and demonstrably unsustainable. Hence, this is a fit case for the Appellate Court to interfere and set it aside.”
The High Court found that the acquittal by Special Judge T Sundaramoorthy of the Special Court for Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) cases in Villupuram was based on a superficial reading of the evidence. Justice Jayachandran said that the trial court had failed to understand that Ponmudy’s wife was holding assets which Ponmudy had acquired through unknown sources. “The trial court ignored all the material evidence placed by the prosecution to show that the business and the agricultural land of the wife had not yielded income sufficient to acquire the wealth held in her name and most of those properties itself suspected to be purchased by Ponmudy (A-1) in her name.”
The Minister was convicted for criminal misconduct under Section 13(2) r/w 13(1)(e) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and Section 13(2) r/w 13(1)(e) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
History of the case
According to the DVAC report, the couple had assets worth Rs 2.71 crore at the beginning of the check period on April 13, 2006, which had increased to Rs 6.27 crore by May 13, 2010. After deducting their admissible income and expenditure, the couple could not satisfactorily explain the source of Rs 1.72 crore additional income.
Initially, the trial court rejected the charges against Ponmudy and his wife. Both were acquitted in 2016.
“Even if A1 and A2, who are husband and wife as in the present case, live under one roof, it cannot be presumed that A2 had abetted A1 and acquired disproportionate assets. It is for the prosecution to prove it with sufficient oral and documentary evidence... In the present case there is no iota or shred of evidence to hold that A2 had abetted A1 and acquired disproportionate assets,” special judge T Sundaramoorthy said.
However, this acquittal was challenged by the DVAC in 2017 when the AIADMK retained power in the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections in 2016.