Dashing her hopes of becoming chief minister of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court on Tuesday convicted and sentenced AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala to four years in jail for conspiring with and abetting the late J Jayalalithaa’s “sinister” design to “launder ill-gotten wealth” to the tune of Rs 53.6 crore.
The bench of justices PC Ghose and Amitava Roy restored the Bengaluru trial court’s conviction order and sentencing “in toto” while setting aside the Karnataka HC judgment that acquitted Jayalalithaa, Sasikala, Sasikala’s sister-in-law Ilavarasi and Sasikala’s nephew VN Sudhakaran. All will also have to pay R10 crore each as fine and their assets such as gold and diamond jewellery, found to be disproportionate to their known sources of income, will be confiscated by virtue of the Supreme Court judgment.
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With the restoration of the conviction order, Sasikala is barred under the Representation of the People Act from holding the CM post, besides getting disqualified to contest polls for six years from the date of her release from prison.
Hours after the conviction, party MLAs elected PWD minister Edappadi K Palanisamy as leader of the legislature party in Sasikala’s presence at the resort outside Chennai where they have been holed up for five days.
Palanisamy met governor C Vidyasagar Rao and staked claim to form the government. Greeting the governor with a bouquet, Palanisamy, who went to the Raj Bhavan with some senior leaders and ministers, presented a list of MLAs supporting his claim.
After Palanisamy left the Raj Bhavan, some AIADMK leaders from the rival camp of caretaker chief minister O Panneerselvam met the governor.
Police sources said Sasikala had not moved out of the resort until evening although she has been ordered to surrender before the Bengaluru trial court that convicted her. There were also reports that police were being told to empty the resort where the MLAs have been staying.
The bench held that Sasikala and her two relatives — Sudhakaran was Jayalalithaa’s foster son who she later disowned — were accommodated in Jayalalithaa’s house not out of humanitarian concern or for social living but “pursuant to the criminal conspiracy hatched by them to hold the assets of” the former AIADMK chief and “to launder the ill-gotten wealth” for purchasing properties in the names of shell firms.
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Since Jayalalithaa died on December 5 when the judgment in the matter was pending, the Supreme Court abated proceedings against her in the 1996 case but maintained that her “inextricable nexus” with Sasikala and other co-accused was duly proved by way of overwhelming evidence to establish charges of active abetment and conspiracy against the co-accused.
“The trial court was meticulous, sensitive, vigilant and judicious in appraisal, stands authenticated by the fact that in valuing the assets, as warranted… the impugned judgment and order of the high court (of 2015) suffers from manifest errors on the face of the record, both on facts and in law and is liable to be set aside,” the bench said.
It directed Sasikala and two others to surrender forthwith before the trial court, which was further directed “to take immediate steps to ensure” that Sasikala and others serve out the remainder of sentence. The trio served 21 days in prison after their conviction by the trial court in September 2014. The Supreme Court had, on October 17 that year, released Jayalalithaa and her co-accused on bail.
In the 570-page order, justices Ghose and Roy wrote a concurring verdict, underlining that “the percentage of disproportionate assets as 8.12%, as computed by the High Court is based on completely wrong reading of the evidence on record compounded by incorrect arithmetical calculations”.
The bench, however, said that it did not need to make fresh calculation of the assets and liabilities to arrive at a number since the trial court had already undertaken this exercise in a correct manner and the assessment was “unexceptionable”.
The court held that assets of six shell companies, which were held by Sasikala and others on behalf of Jayalalithaa “with a masked front”, shall also be confiscated by the state. “The attendant facts and circumstances encountered as above demonstrate a deep-rooted conspiratorial design to amass vast assets without any compunction and hold the same through shell entities to cover up the sinister trail of such illicit acquisitions and deceive and delude the process of law,” said Roy, in a separate order on the menace of corruption.
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“The flow of money from one account to the other proves that there existed active conspiracy to launder the ill-gotten wealth of A1 (Jayalalithaa) for purchasing properties in the names of the firms. The unimpeded, frequent and spontaneous inflow of funds from the account of A1 to those of the co-accused and the firms/companies involved, overwhelmingly demonstrate the collective culpable involvement,” the court noted.
It said that the the issue regarding disproportionate assets was not in dispute because Sasikala and others had accepted the high court judgment, which had also ruled they were in possession of assets disproportionate to their known sources of income. Only the correctness of the calculation and quantum of the disproportionate assets, the top court said, was in contention and, according to the bench, the trial court had rightly arrived at Rs 53.6 crore as ill-gotten wealth.
Co authored by Rahul Tripathi