Chinnamma can’t contest polls for 10 years.
New Delhi: In a huge setback to the political ambitions of AIADMK general secretary V.K. Sasikala, the Supreme Court on Tuesday found her guilty of corruption in the Rs 66-crore disproportionate assets case and sentenced her to four-year imprisonment.
Under the Representation of the People Act, convicts in corruption cases can’t contest elections for six years after completing their jail sentence.
This means that Ms Sasikala is disqualified from contesting elections for a total of 10 years, effectively ending her bid to become Tamil Nadu’s chief minister.
The two-judge bench ordered Ms Sasikala to surrender immediately to the authorities in Karnataka, where she will serve her prison sentence.
The bench of Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Amitav Roy set aside the Karnataka high court order of May 2015 that had acquitted the main accused — former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, Ms Sasikala and her relatives V.N. Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi — and “restored in full” the trial court’s conviction of September 2014.
“The magnitude of the nefarious gains as demonstrated by the revelations in the case are, to say the least, startling,” the judges wrote in their verdict.
The ruling also said there was “incriminating evidence” against Jayalalithaa, but since she had died on December 5, 2016, the appeals filed by the Karnataka government insofar as she is concerned had come to an end.
While upholding the trial court’s directive to confiscate the properties, the bench said this should be treated as an order of the Supreme Court.
The main petitioner, Subramanian Swamy, and Karnataka advocates Dushant Dave, Aristotle, DMK lawyers V. Pragasan, R. Shanmugasundaram were seated in the front row of Court Room No. 6 when the verdict was delivered. “After 20 years, I won,” Mr Swamy tweeted later.
The corruption case dates back to the late 1990s when Jayalalithaa and Ms Sasikala were accused of profiting from the chief minister’s office and amassing wealth beyond their income. They were jointly accused of owning several bungalows, luxury cars, tea estates, eight tons of silver, nearly 30 kg of gold and thousands of saris that could be not accounted for.
A trial court had, in 2014, sentenced Jayalalitha, Ms Sasikala, Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran to four years’ imprisonment for criminal conspiracy to acquire and possess assets grossly disproportionate to their known sources of income, and slapped a fine of Rs 10 crores on each.
Writing the main 570-page judgment, Justice Ghose said it has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused entered into a conspiracy and had come into possession of assets disproportionate to known sources of income of Jayalalithaa during 1991 to 1996.
The 1977 case law, quoted by the high court, had held that an offence was not made out if disproportionate assets were found to be less than 10 per cent of the income.
Faulting the high court’s calculation, the Supreme Court judges pointed out that in 1991, the assets of the accused were valued at Rs 2.01 crores. By 1996, the accused were worth Rs 66.44 crores. It agreed with the findings of the trial court that the accused had amassed Rs 53.60 crores as disproportionate assets to known sources of income and failed to account for the same.
Ms Sasikala has also has the option of filing a review petition in the court within 30 days for reconsideration of the judgment. If the review by two judges is dismissed, then the last option is to file a curative petition, which will be heard by five judges. If a curative petition is also dismissed, she will have to remain in jail to serve out the sentence period.