Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Writing down a hefty 570-page judgement, the Bench of P.C. Ghose and Amitava Roy, JJ restored the conviction order of the trial court against Sasikala Natarajan, V.N. Sudhakaran and J. Elavarasi for holding disproportionate assets. All 3 were awarded the sentence of 4 years each by the Trial Court.

The judgement where the Court said that the present case demonstrates 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, came at the time when Sasikala was eyeing the post of Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

The Court noticed that J. Jayalalitha, who was the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister at the relevant time had come into possession of assets worth Rs.53,60,49,954.00, disproportionate to the known sources of her income during the check period and had got the same dispersed in the names of Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Elavarasi and the firms & companies involved to hold these on her behalf with a masked front.

The trial court had held that private individuals can be prosecuted by the Court on the ground that they have abetted the act of criminal misconduct falling under Section 13(1)(e) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 committed by the public servant. Setting aside the decision of the Karnataka High Court in Selvi J. Jayalalitha v. State, 2015 SCC OnLine Kar 124, decided on 11.05.2015, where the respondents were acquitted of all criminal charges, the Court held that the Trial Court is correct in the face of the overwhelming evidence indicating the circumstances of active abetment and conspiracy by Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Elavarasi in the commission of the offences under Section 13(1)(e) of the 1988 Act.

The Court further said that corruption is a vice of insatiable avarice for self-aggrandizement by the unscrupulous, taking unfair advantage of their power and authority and those in public office also, in breach of the institutional norms, mostly backed by minatory loyalists. Both the corrupt and the corrupter are indictable and answerable to the society and the country as a whole. [State of Karnataka v. Selvi. J. Jayalalitha, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 134, decided on 14.02.2017]

High Courts

Karnataka High Court: Providing a major relief to former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalitha in the Disproportionate Assets case the bench of C.R. Kamaraswamy J., set aside the decision of the Sessions Judge, Bengaluru dated 27.09.2014, convicting her of amassing disproportionate wealth under Section 13(1)(e) read with Section 13(2) of Prevention of Corruption Act and under Section 120-B of IPC read with Section 13(1)(e) read with Section 13(2) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, and acquitted her and other accused of the charges as the decision of the Trial Court suffered from infirmity.

The case was initiated on a complaint filed by  former president of Janata Party, Subramanian Swamy who alleged that the property of the appellant was , disproportionate of her Rs.1 as monthly income during her tenure as CM (1991-1996). He further alleged that the appellant conspired with three others to acquire assets worth Rs. 66.65 crores. She further spent crores on her foster son’s wedding and possessed a huge quantity of jewellery.

Counsels for the appellant L.N Rao and B. Kumar cited around 65 case laws and contended before the Court that the Investigating Officer had assessed all the properties of all the accused persons to the extent of Rs.64,42,89,616. The appellants also contended that incase if the investigation agency is unable to investigate in respect of the income of the accused, then Section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act has to be pressed into service. Special Public Prosecutor B.V. Acharya contended that the appeals are not maintainable in law as the State of Karnataka which is the sole prosecuting agency has not been made a party. Omission to implead the State of Karnataka as a party is a fatal defect and as the defect has not been cured even subsequently.The prosecution further contended that it has verily established by circumstantial evidence that the properties in question have been acquired by the appellant out of her ill- gotten wealth. Subramanian Swamy further put forth his argument that financial status of the appellant prior to her becoming the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu showed ‘nil’ Income and Wealth in 1985-86, after ceased to be an actress since 1979. After becoming Chief Minister, she doubled her income, tripled her wealth despite of drawing only Rs.1 per month as salary of Chief Minister. The Court at length discussed the depositions of every prosecution and defense witness and the evidences and the income tax returns filed by the appellants.

The Court on perusing all the evidences, observed that known source of income means known source of income to the prosecution after a thorough investigation and the onus of satisfactorily accounting for it is not as heavy. An onus is on the prosecution to prove its case beyond all possibility of doubt. It was further observed that Where a public servant, is found to be in possession of disproportionate assets, the burden is on him to satisfactorily account for his possession of such assets, however, they are not bound to prove  innocence beyond all reasonable doubt. commenting upon the contruction expenses of the appellants, the Court observed that the assessment has been made on basis of guesswork rather than using the actual price prevailing during the check period. Many fallacies in the statements of the witnesses presented by the prosecution were pointed out by the Court. The Court did not accept the challenge to the maintainability of the appeal put forth by the prosecution. The Court also stated that the Trial Court had failed to appreciate the evidence in a proper perspective. The immovable properties were acquired by borrowing huge loan from the Nationalized Banks, thus it is difficult to infer that the properties were acquired by means of ill-gotten money. Further the Trial Court had ignored the evidentiary value of the Income Tax proceedings

The Court was of the view that prosecution has failed to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt. The Court calculated the Disproportionate Assets as 8.12% of the income and relying on the judgment in Krishnanand Agnihotri v. State of M.P. (1977)1 SCC 816, in which relaxation up to 10% disproportionate assets was given, the Court acquitted the accused persons. Selvi J. Jayalalitha v. State2015 SCC OnLine Kar 124 decided on May 11, 2015 

Supreme Court

Supreme Court: Deciding the matter related to continuation of G. Bhavani Singh as the Special Public Prosecutor in the case against S. Jayalalitha regarding disproportionate assets which was, on 15.04.2015, referred to a larger bench owing to difference of opinion of Madan B. Lokur and R. Banumathi, JJ, the 3 judge bench of Dipak Misra, P.C. Pant and R.K. Agrawal, JJ held that the appointment of Bhavani Singh as the Public Prosecutor for the trial did not make him eligible to prosecute the appeal on behalf of prosecuting agency before the High Court. Concurring with the opinion of Madan B. Lokur, J., the Court further explained that the appointment of a Public Prosecutor, as envisaged under Section 24(1); CrPC in the High Court is different than the appointment of a Public Prosecutor for the District Courts.

Having said that, another question that was posed before the Court was that whether annulment of appointment of Bhavani Singh as Public Prosecutor would entail de novo hearing of the appeal. Taking note of the fact that the appeal has been heard on day to day basis and the learned judge is in the process of preparation of the judgment, it was held that there is no justification to direct for de novo hearing of the appeal, regard being had to the duties of the appellate Judge i.e. to evaluate, appreciate and consider each material aspect brought on record before rendering the judgment especially in a corruption case. Stating that a judge must avoid all kind of weakness and vacillation while giving an objective judgment, the Court said that the said responsibility of the judges cannot be abdicated or abandoned or ostracized, even remotely, solely because there might not have been proper assistance by the counsel appearing for the parties. K. Anbazhagan v. State of Karnataka, 2015 SCC OnLine SC 389, decided on 27.04.2015

High Courts

Madras High Court: In the instant case where the petitioner appearing in person praying to the Court to declare the notification issued by the Tamil Nadu Gazette, Extraordinary No.223 dated 8.11.2014 stating that former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Selvi J. Jayalalitha’s constituency 139 Srirangam shall be deemed to have become vacant from the date of her conviction i.e., 27.09.2014, as according to Article 190(3) of the Constitution, as void and unconstitutional, by providing the reason stating J. Jayalalitha to be a public spirited person, the Bench of S.K. Kaul, C.J., and M.M. Sundresh termed the petition to be a publicity stunt with no merit in law. It is to be noted that Jayalalitha had been found guilty of possessing disproportionate assets and was convicted for the same leading to her disqualification as a legislator, although she was later granted bail by the Supreme Court.

It was observed by the Bench that the present petition only stated various Articles of the Constitution with nothing major to contend. S.T.S. Moorthy represented the respondents in the present case. 

The Bench also observed that the petitioner never approached the Court regarding the vacancy of Jayalalitha’s constituency and with the elections for 139 Srirangam round the corner; such a petition is simply a publicity exercise. The Court further observed that  such frivolous petitions are to be penalized by imposing exemplary costs but, since the petitioner committed this misadventure for the first time therefore she was let off only with a caution so as to dissuade her to pursue any such frivolous petitions under the garb of a Public Interest Litigation. C.Udayachandrika v. The Secretary,Tamilnadu Legislative Assembly, 2015 SCC OnLine Mad 194 decided on 10.02.2015