There is a saying in Thamil ‘What you sow in the morning you reap in the evening.” This is exactly what happened to AIADMK supremo Ms. Jayaram Jayalalithaa, ex chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Nemesis caught up with Jayalalithaa after a long and arduous court battle. The lesson learnt is that corruption does not pay. And the fact although justice was delayed, justice was not denied.
Jayalalithaa while in office has jailed scores of Thamil nationalists to jail under the draconian and much despised TADA. A notable example is Vaiko, General Secretary of MDMK who was arrested and jailed for 570 days (19 months) in prison. So is Pazha. Nedumaran, leader of the Thamil Nationalist Movement who was kept behind bars for 510 days (17 months). Both were accused for their open support of the banned Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam (LTTE). She is also credited with foisting false cases on her opponents by using the Police. One such victim was V.N. Sudhakaran, her disowned foster son who was charged in 2001 and jailed for illegal possession of heroin!
The opulent marriage of Jayalaithaa’s foster son VN Sudhakaran on July 9, 1995, when she was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, saw Rs 1.14 crores spent on food, mineral water and tamboolam alone, according to the prosecution. The tailor who stitched Sudhakaran’s wedding trousseau was paid Rs1.26 lakhs. Today, the mega marriage proved to be Jayalaithaa’s undoing. By a strange twist of fate the duo are now cooling their heels in Karnataka Parappana Agrahara jail convicted in the disproportionate assets case.
Up to 4.00 pm on September 27, 2014 she was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, but next minute she was an ex Chief Minister as well as ex MLA. Her Z plus security was immediately withdrawn and she was taken to jail.
Jayalalithaa became the first Chief Minister to lose the post due to the conviction while in office. She became the first MLA from the state, third Member of all assemblies in India and the seventh politician after Congress Rajya Sabha MP Rasheed Masood, RJD leader and ex-Chief minister of Bihar Lalu Prasad Yathav and JD (U) leader Jagadish Sharma.
In a land mark case that dragged on for a record 18 years, Karnataka Special Court Judge John Michael D’Cunha convicted all four accused viz Jayalalithaa, Sasikala Natarajan, Ilavarasi and V.N. Sudhakaran and sentenced them to four year simple imprisonment under Sections 120B and 109 in Indian Penal Code (IPC) and fines. While Jayalalithaa was fined INR100 crores, the other three were fined INR10 crores each. The failure of payment of the fine would result in another additional year in prison.
Following the judgment, Jayalalithaa was moved to Parappana Agrahara prison (# 7402) in barrack 23 where Karnataka Chief minister B.S. Yedurappa was imprisoned for 24 days in connection with a land scam. The request for a VVIP cell and medical treatment were all denied quoting her conviction. The three co-accused were imprisoned in adjoining jails in the same prison.
The case had political implications as it was the first case where a ruling Chief minister had to step down on account of a court sentence. She was convicted for the third time overall and was forced to step down from the Chief Minister’s office for the second time. The Representation of People’s Act that prevents convicted politicians from holding office. If the conviction stays Ms. Jayalalithaa will not be able to contest elections for the next 10 years!
AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa first filed a petition in the Karnataka High Court challenging her conviction and sought relief to suspend the execution of her sentence and grant bail in the disproportionate assets case.
The Karnataka High Court Judge AV Chandrasekhar heard the petition on October 7, 2014. The judge dismissed the petition and confirmed the conviction by the Special Court. Consequently she filed a special leave of appeal to the Supreme Court against the verdict of the Karnataka High Court.
On October 11th a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice H.L. Dattu agreed to an urgent plea made by Ms. Jayalaithaa’s counsel and senior advocate Fali S. Nariman for an early hearing of her petition. The petition contended that the Karnataka High Court would take the next four years to finally decide her pending appeal, during which she would have to suffer in prison.
One of the main grounds of the petition is that once an appeal against conviction is admitted by an appellate court, granting of bail and suspension of sentence follows naturally, otherwise it renders the appeal irrelevant. It said that she has been sentenced to a term of ‘simple’ and not ‘rigorous’ imprisonment, and in such cases grant of bail is the norm. The petition argued that bail is the rule and this relief can only be denied in exceptional circumstances of which there is none in the present case.
Ms. Jayalalithaa is seeking relief from incarceration on the grounds that she is a woman, 66-years-old and suffers from ailments. The Karnataka High Court had termed corruption as a violation of human rights quoting the 2012 Supreme Court judgment in State of Maharashtra through CBI versus Balakrishna Dattatrya Kumbhar.
However, Ms. Jayalaithaa’s lawyers are likely to plead that this verdict quoted by the Karnataka High Court was delivered in a matter seeking stay on conviction. In the current matter, only suspension of execution of sentence is sought. The bench held a brief consultation, after which the Chief Justice posted the case for hearing to October 17, 2014.
The petition has challenged the September 8 order of the Karnataka High Court, which had dismissed Ms. Jayalaithaa’s contentions that she should be granted bail on the ground that the accused has no past record of misusing her liberty to hamper proceedings in the case. Rejecting arguments by Mr. Jethmalani that Ms. Jayalalithaa is “entitled” for bail, the high court had observed that suspension of sentence and bail prescribed under Section 389 Cr.PC rests entirely on the discretion of the Appellate Court.
Major allegations in charge sheet
The charge sheet filed under the Prevention of Corruption Act said that the accused in the case, Jayalalithaa, her aide Sasikala, Sasikala’ s nephew and Jayalaithaa’s foster son Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi, sister-in-law of Sasikala had purchased over 32 shell companies, some in benami names. Sasikala, Ilaivarasai and Sudhakaran were made directors in many of these companies.
The charge sheet said farm houses and bungalows in Chennai, agricultural land in Thamil Nadu, a farm house in Hyderabad, a tea estate in the Nilgiris, valuable jewellery, industrial sheds, cash deposits and investments in banks and investments and a set of luxury cars. A raid in her Poes garden residence in 1997 recovered 800 kg (1,800 lb) silver, 28 kg (62 lb) gold, 750 pairs of shoes, 10,500 sarees, 91 watches and other valuables.
The charge sheet further said that crores of money was deposited through cheques, demand deposits 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 Jayalaithaa’s residence 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.
Charge sheet also mentions Jayalaithaa’s foster son Sudhakaran’ s wedding in Chennai, an estimated Rs 6 crores was splurged for the wedding. Jayalaithaa’s defence has said in court that these expenses were borne by the bride’s side.
Jayalalithaa is also accused of building 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 crores and was included in charge sheet.
The properties bought by companies owned by her from Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation (TANSI) cost Rs. one crores.
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 Thirunelveli and an agro farm in addition to other properties.
Some properties bought in Chennai including a building in Mylapore, plot at Guindy Industrial estate and two apartments were also included in the charge sheet.
Jayalaithaa’s lawyers have maintained throughout the trial that:
1) She being an actress of yesteryears had enough wealth to make some of the purchases.
2) She and others had no connection with many of the companies mentioned in case.
3) The money collected and deposited into Namadu MGR account was legitimate and were subscription deposits paid by crores of AIADMK cadres across state.
4) The DMK government lead investigation has deliberately over valued all the assets in their possession.
5) The case was politically motivated by her adversaries. Prosecution born and out of malice and vendetta, many illegalities and defects in investigation.
6) The investigating officer Nallama Naidu had not done his job effectively as a preliminary enquiry had not been conducted in the case.
7) The case was foisted and an inquiry was ordered under the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) on Swamy’s complaint, which was baseless and had no merits.
After the conviction Jayalalithaa told the judge that she had suffered for 18 years because of this case and was inflicted with diabetes, hypertension and other ailments. She also told the judge that she was just 48-years-old when the case was registered against her, she was now 66 and that she had suffered enough.
The other three accused then gave their replies. Sasikala too maintained that she had suffered enough because of the case. One by one, the lawyers for each four accused put forward their closing arguments. At 3.00 pm, the judge called for a quick recess and said he would pronounce the quantum of sentence at 4.00 pm.
At 4.00 pm, Judge Michael D’Cunha announced that all the four accused were sentenced to four years in prison and then delivered the final blow- Rs 100 crores fine for Jayalalithaa, Rs 10 crores fine each, for the others. People were taken aback that beyond the guilty verdict the imposition of Rs 100 crores in fine that Jayalalithaa was ordered to pay. .
In the order the judge said “…for the offence under Section 13 (1) (e) read with Section 13 (2) of the PC act, J. Jayalalithaa daughter of late Jayaram is hereby sentenced to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of 4 years and a fine of Rs. 100 crores. In default to pay the fine amount, she shall undergo further imprisonment for one year.”
Justice John Michael Cunha’s judgment is a systematic demolition of all the arguments put forward by Jayalaithaa’s defence. The 896-page order pins the bulk of the blame on Jayalalithaa and says that she was “the only source for the acquisition of the large assets”.
Judge Michael D’Cunha says that the others had “no real source of income” and that the “public servant [Jayalalithaa]” was the “real source”. The judgment goes on to describe Sasikala as an “agent” of Jayalalithaa.
The judge rejected the argument by the defence that the entire case was politically motivated by the DMK. Page 101 points out that the genesis of the case was the complaint filed by Subramanian Swamy and therefore “not actuated by malice or political vendetta”. This section of the order assumes significance in the light of the unsavoury scenes that have been playing out on the streets of Thamil Nadu where AIADMK supporters are accusing the DMK of being responsible for ‘Amma’ being in jail.
Slamming Jayalaithaa’s argument that she received Rs. 2 crores and foreign remittances as birthday gifts, the judge notes that these gifts were received after she became CM and therefore “create serious doubts and suspicions”. He rejects these gifts as “illegal sources of income”. Page 198 to 240 clinically demolish Jayalaithaa’s claim that a bulk of her wealth was mustered through deposits ranging between Rs. 12,000 and Rs. 18,000 made by common AIADMK supporters with Namadu MGR – the party mouthpiece.
The judgement says that the Jayalalithaa has “not produced any material” to prove that Namadu MGR had floated a deposit scheme inviting subscriptions from the general public.
“As a matter of fact, even a copy of Namadu MGR of the relevant period is not produced before the court which would have helped the court in ascertaining whether the newspaper is merely an official newsletter of the AIADMK party and was sold for general consumption.”
The Judge also rejected claims that one of the companies run by Jayalalithaa and Sasikala called Jaya Publications had any agricultural income. Regarding the wedding expenses of Jayalaithaa’s foster son Sudhakaran, the Judge has concluded that Rs. 8 crores and 50 lakhs were spent on it.
“Taking into consideration all facts and circumstances, a sum of Rs. 3 crores is taken as the expenses incurred by Jayalalithaa towards the arrangement for the marriage of Sudhakaran.”
The judge dismissed all explanations given by Jayalalithaa and others for the enormous credits in their bank accounts.
In page 881 he says, “…whatever explanation offered by the accused by way of confirmatory letters are proved to be false and bogus. “
Rejecting all the income tax filings by all the accused, the judge says “…the accused have rested their defence solely on the balance sheets and profit and loss accounts statements said to have been filed before the IT authorities…he says the said documents are not proved in accordance with law and they are not in compliance with the statutory requirements.” He further states that the “…auditors examined by the accused are found to be propped up to support the false defence set up by the accused.”
The judge then said that the P&L Accounts “…were manoeuvred solely with a view to offer an explanation to the huge unexplained credits entered in their respective bank accounts. As a result the accused have failed to prove their defence even by the standard of preponderance of probability.”
The charge sheet in the case was filed in 1997 under provisions of Section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act (criminal misconduct by public servants); the other three were guilty of Sections 109 (abetment) and 120(B) (criminal conspiracy) of IPC. This Act was passed into law in 1988. The petitioner is not the DMK or some other party, but the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption of Tamil Nadu. The agency listed a total of 78 landed properties, several kg of gold and silver, besides diamonds, personal accessories, and fraudulent transactions in 32 benami and defunct companies. It said she had amassed wealth worth Rs 66.65 crores disproportionate to her known sources of income as chief minister during 1991-96, when her official salary was only Re 1 per month.
So if anyone wants to find fault for sending Jayalalithaa to jail, he/she must blame the parliament for enacting the law and not those who enforced it.
The trial began in Chennai in 2000, but the case was moved to Bangalore in 2003 on a plea by K. Anbhazhkan, General Secretary of the DMK, who claimed that a trial in Chennai would be “unfair” as Jayalalithaa had become 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. The money trail in the case has been largely established by witness accounts of two people Ramavijayan and Jayaraman working in the Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa.
After scrutiny of pay-in slips and bank accounts, the judge concluded that these two people were depositing the money given to them by Sasikala in the names of various shell companies floated by all the accused. He also establishes that all the money credited to various accounts of companies, firms etc. had originated in accounts belonging to Jayalalithaa and Sasikala.
Establishing beyond an iota of doubt that there was no political vendetta in the case, the verdict shows the money trail, the camouflaging or the same, shell companies and money-runners as well as a wide web of people working to generate income solely on the basis of the fact that it is for Jayalalithaa. Without her as the pivotal figure, none of the monies would have been transferred.
The judge has questioned government officials for bending the rules as well as turning a blind eye when rules were openly flouted. He has also questioned the relationship between Jayalalithaa and Sasikala asking why the latter was living in the same house.
He then explains how the fine is to be paid. He says the fine will first be taken as proceeds of the fixed deposits and the cash balance of the respective accused in the bank accounts. He has asked the concerned banks to remit the proceedings which will be adjusted towards the fine. The two main bank accounts which were used were Central Bank of India, Canara Bank, Bank of Madurai, amongst others.
He further says that if there’s a shortfall between what is available and what is due, then gold and diamond ornaments seized and produced before the court shall be sold to RBI, SBI or by public auction. During the course of the investigation 7040 grammes of gold were seized. Should there be excess money after all the said transactions are completed; the same will be forfeited to the government. He has also asked that Rs. 5 crores be given to the government of Karnataka for reimbursement of cost of trial.
History of the Case
It was none other than Subramanian Swamy, the maverick politician, who originally filed complaint against Jayalalithaa in 1996. He first sought permission from TN Governor Cenna Reddy who gave approval on April Fools day in 1996.
Jayalalithaa lawyers appealed the conviction to the Karnataka High Court on October 8, 2014. Ram Jethmalani the high profile lawyer flew from London to support the petition for bail and stay of conviction on behalf of Jayalalithaa. Arguably Jethmalani is among the top-five criminal lawyers in the country who takes up controversial cases. He appeared for Kanimozhi in 2G Spectrum case.
In his submission, Jethmalani strongly pleaded for immediate bail to 66-year-old Jayalalithaa and cited the Supreme Court verdict granting relief to former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yathav in the fodder scam. Criticizing the judgment of the special court in the Rs 66.65 crores disproportionate case, he said assets prior to the period between 1991 and 1996 (when Jayalalithaa was Chief Minister) could not be taken into account. There was nothing disclosed in the conduct of Jayalalithaa to show that she might try to flee justice, he contended.
Court rejects bail plea
The Karnataka High Court rejected Jayalaithaa’s bail plea in the disproportionate assets case, saying there was no ground to grant her the relief.
The order by Justice A.V. Chandrasekhar came after special public prosecutor Bhavani Singh told the court he had no objection to granting conditional bail to Jayalalithaa, who is in prison here since her conviction by the special court on September 27.
In his order pronounced in a packed court room, the judge said there “are no grounds” to give bail to the former Tamil Nadu chief minister and observed that corruption amounts to “violation of human rights” and leads to economic imbalance.
He told Ram Jethmalani who argued her petition not to compare her with Lalu Prasad Yathav who was convicted on corruption charges for 5 years but granted bail after 10 months.
The court also rejected the pleas for bail by Jayalaithaa’s close aide Sasikala and her relatives V.N. Sudhakaran, disowned foster son of the former Chief Minister and Ilavarasi, who have also been sent to four years in jail in the 18-year-old case.
There was near comic-tragic drama staged for almost an hour when supporters of Jayalalithaa, who had gathered in large numbers outside the High Court of Karnataka and other places, underwent an emotional roller coaster.
After the advocates rested their case and the High Court judge began dictating the order, there was rejoicing outside. One by one, black-coated men from Thamil Nadu trickled out of Court Hall No. 28 and announced that “bail has been granted”. In the court corridor, almost every Jayalalithaa supporter was seen making non-stop mobile phone calls and the oft-repeated words heard loudly were “bail granted”.
In the next 30 minutes, while Justice Chandrasekhar dictated his order, everyone outside the jam-packed court hall was worried only about what conditions the judge might impose. The black coated fraternity hugged and embraced each other celebrating “Amma’s Victory”. AIADMK supporters started distributing sweets. But the rejoicing supporters had not foreseen what Justice Chandrasekhar would say at the end of his order that he dictated in a little more than 30 minutes. His dismissal of the bail plea came as an anti-climax but was not completely unexpected. The “tears of despair” replaced the “short-lived” euphoria when news of the rejection of the bail plea emerged.
It was not just the AIADMK supporters who were caught flat-footed. Even before the judge had proceeded five minutes into his order, the online world, along with television news channels were flashing Jayalaithaa’s bail. For the better part of the day, everyone believed Jayalalithaa would be granted bail by the judge.
After the defence, including senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, concluded their arguments, the special public prosecutor Bhavani Singh sprang a surprise. He said he has no objection to bail if conditions were imposed. Only, the previous day he has opposed bail on the grounds the accused will use their influence to interfere in court process. It was Singh’s statement that triggered the false news that bail “had been granted” to Jayalalithaa!
Violent reaction to the incarceration of Jayalalithaa
Violent reaction to Jayalaithaa’s conviction and subsequent rejection of her bail application was on predictable terms. Thousands of AIADMK supporters and Ministers camped outside the Parappana Agrahara jail where Jayalalithaa was incarcerated.
Transport services during night time were cancelled for security reasons. AIADMK cadres went on rampage vandalising public property and attacking Kannada owned restaurants. AIADMK party workers and sympathisers observed fast and staged demonstrations across the state. There was sporadic violence such as stone pelting and torching of vehicles in the aftermath of the verdict. Thousands of AIADMK ministers and cadres performed various religious penances and prayers seeking the intervention of gods for the release of Amma from jail.
Various acts like loud wailing, beating of chests, breaking cocoanuts, self immolation, suicides and even cases of spontaneous death from cardiac arrest and shock across Tamil Nadu were reported.
In numerous temples Brahmins performed all night yahas, poojas, special archchanas and abhisekams. Jayalaithaa’s devotes shaved their heads, women ate meals straight off the ground, public beating of chests, rolling on the ground, Hindu and Christian public prayers.
Carrying 1008 milk pots and going on procession, shaving off heads and rolling on the ground at temples. There were murder threats made against Subramanian Swamy (the complainant in the case), raid on M.K. Karunanidhi house and DMK party offices and other overt forms of mass hysteria in response to a corrupt and arrogant Chief Minister getting her just desserts.
In a state where there is a tradition of making grand and dramatic gestures for stars in the South – from building temples to shaving heads, from public prayers to public lamentations and even suicide attempts in full public view, the reaction of the devotees of Jayalalithaa is understandable. But it is a disgrace to observe mourning for a leader who has been found guilty of corruption.
Appeal to Supreme Court
Now Jayalaithaa’s lawyers have filed petition for bail and suspension of sentence to the Supreme Court. The Court on October 10, 2014 agreed to hear Jayalaithaa’s case. A bench headed by Chief Justice HL Dattu posted the case for hearing on October 17 after senior advocate Fali S Nariman pleaded to the court to “accommodate” the case in this week itself.
October 17 will be the last chance for Jayalalithaa to come out of jail before Diwali as the apex court will go on vacation for a week after Friday. The AIADMK chief, who has been behind bars since September 27, has challenged the High Court order refusing her bail. Jayalalithaa has pleaded that she has been sentenced to four years jail in the case and she is suffering from various ailments as grounds for seeking immediate bail. She has also cited her being a senior citizen and a woman for getting out of jail.
As mentioned above Jayalalithaa was denied bail by the High Court on October 7 despite the Special Public Prosecutor not objecting to her being granted conditional bail.
The High Court also rejected the bail pleas by Jayalaithaa’s close aide Sasikala, disowned foster-son V.N. Sudhakaran, and Sasikala niece Ilavarasi. All the four have been sentenced to four years in jail in the 18-year-old case.
The court granted Senior advocate Sushil Kumar plea for a hearing on suspension of sentence of the other three co-accused in the case to October 21, 2014.
The petition contended that the Karnataka High Court would take the next four years to finally decide her pending appeal, during which she would have to suffer in prison. One of the main grounds of the petition is that once an appeal against conviction is admitted by an appellate court, granting of bail and suspension of sentence follows naturally, otherwise it renders the appeal irrelevant.
While India is notorious for corruption and nepotism both at State and National levels and its Police force dancing to the tune of the ruling party, India’s judiciary has withstood many political pressures and come out victorious each time a decision is sought, whether landmark or ordinary.
Some vested interests are promoting various ‘conspiracy’ theories that the court judgement is due to pressure from Prime Minister Modi. Another theory doing rounds is Karnataka government plotted to jail Jayalaithaa’s because of her fight for Cauvery waters. None of these theories hold water and it is sheer propaganda by Jayalaithaa’s party loyalists and fellow travellers.
Jayalalithaa has won 13 out of 14 cases filed against her. In the TANSI land case scandal she and Sasikala were sentenced to 3 years jail term, but the Chennai High Court overturned the conviction and later it was confirmed by the Supreme Court.
Corruption is rampant at the level of all governments and all political parties. The DMK’s own top stalwarts are facing trial for massive 2G corruption scandal.
In regard to Jayalaithaa’s petition for suspension of sentence and appeal for bail, we have to wait patiently for the judgment by the Supreme Court. Even if the Supreme Court gives conditional bail, it is not certain whether it will suspend the sentence imposed in a corruption case.
Unlike Sri Lanka where the judiciary is highly politicised, India is fortunate to have an independent judiciary, judges who can make decisions independent of the political party in power. The bedrock of any democracy is the rule of law, that irrespective of one’s status all are equal in the eyes of law.
Whatever may be the decision, analysts think the political future of Jayalalithaa is bleak even if she does not contest but leads the party from outside. In the meantime Thamil Nadu people have to put up with a puppet chief minister manipulated by remote control or by proxy. So while this judgment is definitely a victory for the rule of law, it might also have just ushered in one of the darkest periods in Thamil Nadu’s history.