The Supreme Court on Tuesday convicted VK Sasikala in a 21-year-old illegal assets case that she has been embroiled in with late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa. The two-member bench comprising justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Amatava Roy did not differ in their verdict, as predicted.
The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief is likely to be jailed for four years in the case and will not be able to stand for elections for six years after she is released from jail. The top court has entirely set aside a verdict from the Karnataka High Court that acquitted her in the case. Sasikala has been asked to surrender before a trial court immediately.
In the 21-year-old case, Jayalalithaa had been accused of colluding with Sasikala, Sasikala’s sister-in-law Ilavarasi, and their nephew Sudhakaran, when she was the chief minister between 1991 and 1996. The four had allegedly amassed wealth of around Rs 65 crore, which were disproportionate to their known sources of income. Some of the properties under the scanner in the case include Jayalalithaa’s Kodanad estate and her Poes Garden residence, which Sasikala still lives in.
The bench ruled that “no other view is possible”, made clear by the “unimpeded, frequent and spontaneous inflow of funds” from Jayalalithaa’s account “to those of the other co-accused and the firms/companies” party to the case.
“We are of the unhesitant opinion that the impugned judgment and order rendered by the [Karnataka High Court] is untenable and is thus set aside,” read the judgment. The bench concluded that the high court’s calculation that the tally of disproportionate assets amounted to only 8.12% was “based on completely wrong reading of the evidence on record compounded by incorrect arithmetic”.
The two-judge bench also observed that the trial court’s ruling was “meticulous, sensitive, vigilant and judicious”, as were its calculations.
The disproportionate assets case:
The complaint was first filed by Subramanian Swamy in 1996. Later, K Anbazhagan, who was then the general secretary of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, became party to the case. However, in 2001, the case was transferred to Bangalore after the Opposition party had alleged interference from the ruling AIADMK.
A trial court in Karnataka had found them guilty in 2014 and ordered that the accused be jailed for four years and slapped with a fine of Rs 100 crore to be recovered through the seizure of properties. However, the Karnataka High Court in 2015 acquitted all four, arguing that the disproportionate assets amounted to less than 10% of the total income during 1991 and 1996.
The Karnataka government challenged the verdict in the Supreme Court, arguing that there were major mathematical errors in the judgment. The prosecution team had said that if certain incomes ignored by the high court had been included in the calculation, the disproportionate income would have actually been over 75% of their known incomes.
The Tamil Nadu crisis:
The AIADMK had been set to prove her majority in the state Assembly, after acting chief minister O Panneerselvam had challenged her authority. Sasikala has more than 120 AIADMK legislators supporting her. While initials reports said the party is likely to elect a new chief instead of backing Panneerselvam, many MLAs are expected to defect now.