Jayalalithaa verdict: 7 judges, 11 years and 130 adjournments

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai | Updated: Sep 29 2014, 15:45pm hrs
Opponents of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa believe that they stand vindicated after a Bangalore court in an 18-year-old case sentenced the her to four years in prison and imposed a fine of Rs 100 crore for illegally accumulating assets worth Rs 66.05 crore.

The verdict also has a crushing impact on her political career as Jayalalithaa, 66, would have to resign as Chief Minister because she stands disqualified as a legislator. The Supreme Court had ruled last year a convicted lawmaker cannot continue as MP or MLA, and shall be disqualified from office.

The disproportionate assets case was filed by Subramanian Swamy, then Janata Party leader, and an FIR in this regard was registered in September 1996. The chargesheet filed under the Prevention of Corruption Act said Jayalalithaa, her former aide Sasikala, the latters sister-in-law Ilavarasi and Jayalalithaas foster son Sudhakaran had purchased over 32 shell companies, some benamis, and that all but the AIADMK chief had been made directors of several of these firms.

Looking at the enormity of unusually huge money transactions, the chargesheet said crores of rupees deposited through cash, cheques and demand drafts into the company accounts were later routed into accounts registered in the name of Namadu MGR, a publication run by AIADMK, and a cable company. An insider, who worked at Poes Garden and used to run the errand of depositing money in different accounts, was one of the main witnesses in the case.

More than Rs 6 crore allegedly spent on the luxurious wedding of Jayalalithaas foster son Sudhakaran, two posh residences built by her at Kodanadu in Ooty and Siruthavur near Kancheepuram and a large sum spent on the maintenance of her Poes Garden residence in Chennai were included in her accumulation of assets. Many trace the beginning of the case to the raid on Poes Garden residence in December 1996.

The seized items, now under the custody of the Bangalore special court, included documents of properties worth over Rs 58 crore, nearly 30 kg gold including 400 pairs of bangles, a 1.5 kg diamond-studded gold waist belt, 500 kg silver, 10,000 sarees, 750 pairs of footwear and over 100 wrist watches.

The next few years were tough for Jayalalithaa with several other cases being slapped on her by the DMK government, including colour TV Scam, sanction to Pleasant Stay Hotel, TANSI property deal and coal case. She was convicted and later acquitted by the higher court in three of these cases, but the assets case continued to get delayed.

After AIADMK returned to power in 2001, it was alleged that Jayalalithaa was misusing the CMs office to subvert justice in the assets case. The case was then transferred to the Bangalore special court by the Supreme Court in 2003. It took 11 years for the Bangalore court to hand out a verdict after over 130 adjournments and seven judges.

A government prosecutor said that unlike the other cases against her, investigators got hold of sale deeds for all properties listed in this case. This has countered the arguments that she created the wealth during her career as an actor. Against her arguments that it is a politically motivated case, we had evidences to prove that Sasikala, Ilaivarasi and Sudhakaran had no means of income to justify the wealth amassed. When the huge money flow into the accounts of Namadu MGR account was claimed to be subscription deposits from party cadres, it was found to be illegal as its without a mandatory RBI sanction, he said.

The case was delayed almost always for wrong reasons. Two years ago, Sasikala approached the SC demanding Tamil translation of the entire court proceedings in Bangalore. The plea, however, was denied by the SC.

Adjournment of the proceeding were sought by Jayalalithaa on health grounds and threat from LTTE and Muslim radical groups, among others.

Justice K Chandru, former judge of the Madras High Court, It took three years to start the trial in the assets case by the first special court in Chennai after Jayalalithaa challenged the very formation of the special court.