New Delhi: The Supreme Court will decide on Tuesday, January 14, whether V.K. Sasikala – close aide of former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa – can be sworn-in as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu.
If Sasikala is acquitted then the governor is bound to appoint her as the chief minister and ask her to form the government. If she is convicted and sentenced, then she cannot contest elections for the period of conviction and a further period of six years, which will virtually end her political ambitions.
The top court will pronounce its verdict on appeals challenging the Karnataka high court’s verdict acquitting Jayalalithaa, Sasikala, Ilavarasi and V.N. Sudhagaran in the Rs 66 crore disproportionate assets case. A bench of justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Amitav Roy had reserved verdict on June 7, 2016. In the meanwhile Jayalalithaa died on December 5, 2016 and the appeal will abate as far as she is concerned.
The court in its oral observations had said that acquisition of properties by the accused per se may not be an offence unless it was shown that the income used for purchase of such properties were obtained through illegal means.
The high court in May 11, 2015 had set aside a September 27, 2014 judgment of the trial Judge John Michael D’Cunha in Bengaluru convicting the four accused and awarding them four years imprisonment.
During arguments in the appeals it was argued on behalf of Karnataka that Ms. Sasikala and two other accused floated benami companies and acquired wealth disproportionate to the known sources of income. It was submitted that the loans obtained by the accused in various banks during the check period were treated as income by the trial court and high court. Even if the income and wealth calculations of the high court is accepted, and the Rs 2.82 crores estimate as disproportionate assets of Jayalalithaa and others is taken as accurate, the trial court conviction should be confirmed by this court.
Karnataka had argued that the verdict has to be set aside or, alternatively, the apex court can set aside the verdict and remit the matter back to the high court for a fresh hearing. Counsel citing a series of decisions said the apex court cannot re-appreciate the evidence before the trial court, as it can only go into the correctness or otherwise of the high court judgment.
Throughout the hearing in the apex court, Jayalalithaa and three others took a gamble by arguing against the trial court verdict and how evidence adduced was not properly appreciated by the trial court. No attempt was made by the counsel seeking to sustain the high court judgment of acquittal.
Karnataka described the high court verdict acquitting Jayalalithaa and three others as perverse, illogical and lacking reason. It said the judge did not even bother to record cogent reasons for reversing the well-considered judgment delivered by the trial court. It faulted the judgment for treating as income the gifts received by Jayalalithaa from abroad. Karnataka sought to quash the appeal and an interim stay of the judgment.
The court indicated ‘we have three options; uphold the high court judgment of acquittal; set aside the verdict and restore conviction; remit the matter either to the high court or if we find the trial court verdict is wrong, we can set aside the trial court judgment and order fresh trial.” The bench did not agree with counsel’s submissions that the apex court cannot go into the correctness of the trial court judgment saying “why should the accused suffer conviction for the fault of the trial court.” An interesting judgment is awaited to end the two decade legal battle.