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June 16, 1999
Jaya discharged from coal import case
Special Judge (III) V Radhakrishnan today discharged All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham general secretary J Jayalalitha and senior party leader V R Nedunchezhiyan from the Rs 650 million coal import deal case.
The judge allowed the petitions filed by Jayalalitha and Nedunchezhiyan, who was the then finance minister, urging that they should be discharged from the case.
This is the first corruption case in which Jayalalitha has been discharged. Charges have been framed against her in four other cases -- the Kodaikanal Pleasant Stay hotel case, the Rs 85.4 million colour television sets purchase scam, the Rs 666.5 million disproportionate assets case and the Tansi land deal case.
The Madras high court had recently discharged Nedunchezhiyan from the colour television scam, in which Jayalalitha is the prime accused.
As a smiling Jayalalitha left the court hall, more than 100 AIADMK workers and advocates kept shouting slogans like 'victory to justice' and 'long live Puratchi Thalaivi (revolutionary leader)'. The appeals made by senior AIADMK leaders for calm inside the court complex went in vain.
Readily obliging scores of waiting newspersons at the court entrance, she quoted the ancient Tamil proverb that "dharma, though eclipsed for a while by evil, will ultimately triumph".
She said her discharge from the case has vindicated her stand that the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham government had filed false cases against her. "This is just the beginning. You will soon see major changes as far as the judicial process is concerned," she added.
She alleged that the DMK government was trying to expedite the pending cases against her with an eye on the coming Lok Sabha polls. This would not succeed, she asserted.
The state government announced that it would appeal against the verdict in the Madras high court.
The judge said the state crime branch (CID) police, which had probed the coal deal, had failed to convincingly prove that Jayalalitha and Nedunchezhiyan were aware of the 'missing pages' in the government files, when they affixed their signatures, clearing the deal. The pages contained the objections raised by then public works secretary K Sundaram.
The judge said it was not known as to how, where, and at what point of time, the pages 21-32 and 223-246, containing Sundaram's objections, had been removed from the file concerned and 'secreted'. There was nothing on record to show that Nedunchezhiyan had the occasion to see the missing pages, he said.
He held that the court could not presume or assume that the entire file, including the missing pages, were placed before Jayalalitha and Nedunchezhiyan, when they had affixed their signatures.
Hence, there was nothing on record to link the two with the criminal conspiracy to cause loss to the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board and ensure pecuniary advantage to the foreign firms supplying coal, he added.
The judge said certain material was available on record which might, or might not, create suspicions against Jayalalitha, but these suspicions were not grave in nature.
"On receiving a letter from Mr N Haribhasker, the then TNEB chairman and the fourth accused in the case, Jayalalitha had written in September 1992 to the prime minister, seeking concurrence to import one million tonnes of steaming coal. After obtaining the clearance, Mr Haribhasker took action, calling for global tenders in February 1993," he pointed out.
The judge has framed charges against nine other accused in the case, including former minister S Kannappan and former chief secretaries T V Venkataraman and Haribaskar.
The charges were framed under section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and section 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant) of the Indian Penal Code and section 13 (1) (C) (D) read with 13 (2) (criminal misconduct of public servant) under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The judge fixed July 15 for the trial in the case.
The judge said the accused had entered into a criminal conspiracy in 1992 to ensure excess payment of Rs 37.5 million to the five coal suppliers --- Sintax International of Perth, the New York-based Energy Trading Corporation and Hawley Fuel Trading, Counter Corporation Trading of Singapore and Prime Comexindo of Jakarta.
This was because coal was imported through the five firms at a cost of $ 40 per tonne as against the initial price offer of $ 35.24 made by Prime Comexindo.
The judge said Kannappan, Venkataraman, Haribhasker and others had abused their official position to misappropriate the Rs 650 million entrusted to them which resulted in pecuniary advantage to the suppliers.
The judge had adjourned the trial indefinitely -- till the final report was filed by the prosecution. But Justice Akbar Basha Khadri of the Madras high court, on April 15 last, acting on a petition filed by the crime branch, had directed the special judge to proceed with the trial forthwith.
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