Bengaluru/Chennai | Decks were cleared for the return of AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister after she was acquitted today in the 19-year-old disproportionate assets case against her by the Karnataka High Court which said her conviction suffered from infirmity and was not sustainable in law.
…the accused are entitled to acquittal. When the principal accused (Jayalalithaa) has been acquitted, the other accused, who played a lesser role, are entitled to acquittal, Justice C R Kumaraswamy said in his 919-page judgement that set aside trial court judge Michael D’cunha’s order last year holding her guilty of corruption and sentencing her to four years imprisonment.
The High Court verdict, that also acquitted Jayalalithaa’s close aide Sasikala and two others, triggered immediate jubilation among the AIADMK ranks who celebrated the event with bursting of crackers, distribution of sweets and dancing outside her residence in Chennai and across Tamil Nadu.
After she secured the clean chit, stop-gap Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and a host of party leaders trooped to her Poes Garden residence and held consultations apparently on her assuming reins of office once again.
Jayalalithaa was unseated from the Chief Minister’s post on August 27, last year when the trial court convicted her and she was automatically disqualified from being a member of the Assembly and contesting elections for 10 years from then.
But, today’s verdict cleared the way for her to return to power and to contest elections. There is widespread speculation that Jayalalithaa, a strong believer, is looking at an auspicious day to take the oath again, almost a year ahead of the Assembly elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeted Jayalalithaa on her acquittal which she said has proved that she did no wrong.
Today’s verdict gives me immense satisfaction, this has removed the slander imposed on me, this has erased the blame put on me by political enemies, she said in her first reaction hours after her acquittal. It has confirmed that I have done no wrong, this verdict is a boon granted by God for the prayers of Tamil Nadu people after the verdict of the lower court, Jayalalithaa said.
Interestingly, the Special Public Prosecutor B V Acharya, who was brought in by the Supreme Court at the eleventh hour, said the prosecution case was seriously prejudiced as Karnataka and the SPP appointed by it were denied an opportunity to convince the High Court through oral arguments.
The High Court judgement came on the appeals filed by Jayalalithaa and the other three against the special court order.
Speaking to reporters outside the court, B Kumar, senior counsel for Jayalalithaa said the prosecution case made by the then DMK government now stands dismissed.
The consequence of this pronouncement is that she is entitled to resume the office of Chief Minister, a beaming Kumar said.
Justice Kumaraswamy gave the verdict just a day ahead of the three-month deadline set by the Supreme Court to complete the hearing on the appeals. The 67-year old Jayalalithaa was not present in the court, as, according to the Criminal Procedure Code, the accused are required to be present only in the trial court.
SPP Acharya said the state of Karnataka was the sole prosecuting agency in this case, as the Supreme Court had stated, but it had been denied adequate opportunity before the High Court. He said the total effect was that the state of Karnataka and the Public Prosecutor appointed by it was denied an opportunity to convince High Court judge through oral arguments, which had seriously prejudiced the case of the prosecution.
Acharya said on behalf of the accused, the appellant lawyers made their arguments for about two months during which time there was no Public Prosecutor in place appointed by Karnataka government. So the entire proceedings have gone on without a validly appointed Public Prosecutor. He noted he was appointed as SPP on April 22 after the Supreme Court order which had said SPP can file written submission within one day and there was no chance for oral arguments.
The Supreme Court had quashed the appointment of Bhawani Singh as the SPP holding it was bad in law, following which Acharya, who had earlier resigned as SPP, returned.
In his written submission in the High Court, Acharya had prayed for dismissal of appeals filed by Jayalalithaa and others.
In the High Court today, Justice Kumaraswamy quashed the order of the trial court relating to confiscation of the properties both movable and immovable.
Taking into consideration overall circumstances and material placed on record, in my view, the judgement and finding recorded by the trial court suffers from infirmity and it is not sustainable in law, the judge said.
On disproportionate assets, the judge held that it is relatively small. In the instant case, the disproportionate asset is less than 10 per cent and it is within permissible limit.
Therefore, the accused are entitled to acquittal. When the principal accused (Jayalalithaa) has been acquitted, the other accused, who have played a lesser role, are also entitled to acquittal, the court said.
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