The apex court convicted the close aide of Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate assets case, dashing any hopes she had to become CM.
All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief V K Sasikala was on Tuesday convicted in a corruption case by Supreme Court which dashed her ambition to become the Tamil Nadu chief minister, as the verdict holding her guilty of entering into a conspiracy with late AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa would bar her from electoral politics for the next decade.
The apex court judgement, delivered at a time when the state is witnessing a bitter power struggle in the aftermath of Jayalalithaa's demise, set aside the Karnataka high court order acquitting all the four accused and "restored in toto" the trial court's decision in the 19-year-old disproportionate assets case.
Sasikala, 60, will now have to serve a jail term of around three-and-half years out of four years awarded by the trial court as she has already undergone almost six months in prison.
The special trial court had found disproportionate assets worth Rs 53.60 crore, which Jayalalithaa and the three others could not account for. The Central Bureau of Investigation had alleged that the unaccounted wealth was in the tune of Rs 66.65 crore.
The top court directed Sasikala and her two relatives -- V N Sudhakaran, Jayalalithaa's foster son, and Elavarasi, widow of Sasikala's elder brother -- to "forthwith surrender" before the Bengaluru's trial court which will "take immediate steps" to ensure that all the three "serve out the remainder of sentence awarded to them and take further steps in compliance of this judgement, in accordance with law."
Sasikala, the close aid and shadow of Jayalalithaa for almost three decades, was locked in a power struggle for the top post with acting Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, who was sacked from AIADMK's primary membership.
She had been in the jail in 1996 when the case was registered and later in 2014 after the Special trial court convicted and awarded a four-year sentence with a fine of Rs 10 crore. Jayalalithaa was then awarded four-year jail term, besides a fine of Rs 100 crore.
The apex court, which abated the proceedings against Jayalalithaa who breathed her last on December 5 last year, held that the criminal conspiracy was hatched at her Poes Garden residence in Chennai.
"The joint residence of all the accused persons also could not be ignored as a factor contributing to the charge of conspiracy and abetment when assessed together with the attendant facts and circumstances reinforcing the said imputations," a bench comprising Justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy said.
"After analysing the facts and circumstances of this case and after taking into consideration all the evidence placed before us and the arguments put forward by all the parties, we are of the unhesitant opinion that the impugned judgement and order rendered by the high court is untenable and is thus set aside," the bench said in its 570-page judgement.
The main judgement was authored by Justice Ghose, but Justice Roy who chose to supplement the concurrent findings, said the case demonstrated a deep-rooted conspiracy to amass vast assets through shell entities and deceive the process of law.
The bench, which heard the arguments between February 23 to June 7 last year, held that the judgement of the high court was "untenable" as it had wrongly calculated the disproportionate assets of the accused persons who were operating 34 companies during the "check-in" period, starting July 1991 till April 1996 when Jayalalithaa was the chief minister.
"The attendant facts and circumstances encountered, 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 process of law. Novelty in the outrages and the magnitude of the nefarious gains as demonstrated by the revelations in the case, are startling.
"A growing impression in contemporary existence seems to acknowledge the all-pervading pestilent presence of corruption almost in every walk of life, as if to rest reconciled to the octopoid stranglehold of this malaise with helpless awe.
"The common day experiences indeed do introduce one with unfailing regularity, the variegated cancerous concoctions of corruption with fearless impunity gnawing into the frame and fabric of nation's essentia," Justice Roy said.
The apex court said it considered the facts of the case and, "in our opinion, the percentage of disproportionate assets as 8.12 per cent as computed by the high court is based on completely wrong reading of the evidence on record compounded by incorrect arithmetical calculations."
"Furthermore, the reasoning given by the trial court in respect of criminal conspiracy and abetment, after scrutinising the evidence of this case, is correct in the face of the overwhelming evidence indicating the circumstances of active abetment and conspiracy by accused (Sasikala and her two relatives) in the commission of the above offences under Section 13(1)(e) of the 1988 Act (Prevention of Corruption)," it said.
The bench noted the cirumstances which were evident to establish that the trial court's verdict and its findings were correct.
The bench held that Jayalalithaa, Sasikala and the other two convicts had entered into a conspiracy and the late chief minister, who was a public servant at the relevant time, had come to possess assets disproportionate to the known sources of her income during the check period.
"We have analysed the evidence adduced by the parties and we come to the conclusion that A1 to A4 (all the accused) have entered into a conspiracy and in furtherance of the same, A1 (Jayalalithaa) who was a public servant at the relevant time had come into possession of assets disproportionate to the known sources of her income during the check period and had got the same dispersed in the names of A2 to A4 and the firms and companies involved to hold these on her behalf with a masked front," the bench said.
"Furthermore, the charge of abetment laid against A2 to A4 (Sasikala and two others) in the commission of the offence by A1 (Jayalalithaa) also stands proved," it said.
The apex court held that though proceedings against Jayalalithaa has been abated due to her death, other accused were liable to be convicted and serve the remaining jail term.
"Therefore, we hold that as the sole public servant has died being A1 (Jayalalithaa) in this matter, in our opinion, though the appeals against her have abated, even then A2 to A4 are liable to be convicted and sentenced in the manner as has been held by the trial judge," it said.
Referring to a judgement, the apex court said the trial court was justified in holding that even private individuals could be prosecuted for abetment for their roles in colluding with a public servant in an assets case.
"Furthermore, the reasoning given by the trial court in respect of criminal conspiracy and abetment, after scrutinising the evidence of this case, is correct in the face of the overwhelming evidence indicating the circumstances of active abetment and conspiracy by A2 to A4 in the commission of the above offences under section 13(1)(e) of the 1988 Act," the bench said.
The court referred to various circumstances to uphold the findings arrived at by trial court in convicting the accused.
"A1 (Jayalalithaa) had executed a General Power of Attorney in favour of A2 (Sasikala) in respect of Jaya Publications...
"The circumstance of executing the power of attorney in favour of A2 indicates that with a view to keep herself secured from legal complications, A1 executed the said power of attorney knowing fully well that under the said powers, A2 would be dealing with her funds credited to her account in Jaya Publications," it noted.
The apex court said that setting up of various firms during the check period was another circumstance establishing the conspiracy between the parties.
"It has come in evidence that 10 firms were constituted on a single day.
"In addition, A2 and A3 started independent concerns and apart from buying properties, no other business activity was undertaken by them. The circumstances proved in evidence undoubtedly establish that these firms are nothing but extentions of Namadhu MGR and Jaya Publications and they owed their existence to the benevolence of A1 and A2."
The bench observed that these firms were operating from the residence of Jayalalithaa and "it cannot be accepted that she was unaware of the same even though she feigned ignorance about the activities carried on by A2 to A4. They were residing with A1 without any blood relation between them".
"Although A2 to A4 claims to have independent sources of income but the fact of constitution of firms and acquisition of large tracts of land out of the funds provided by A1 indicate that all the accused congregated in the house of A1, neither for social living, nor A1 allowed them free accommodation out of humanitarian concern, rather the facts and circumstances proved in evidence undoubtedly point out that A2 to A4 were accommodated in the house of A1 pursuant to the criminal conspiracy hatched by them to hold the assets of A1," it said.
The bench said in view of the reasoning recorded in the judgement, "we set aside the judgment and order of the high court and affirm and restore the judgment of the Trial Court in toto against A2 to A4".
Though the proceedings against Jayalalithaa has been abated, the bench said, "Nevertheless, to reiterate, having regard to the fact that the charge framed against Sasikala and her two relatives is proved, the conviction and sentence recorded against them by the Trial Court is restored in full including the consequential directions".
The apex court said the "documents reveal that before the income tax authorities, the representative of A1 himself had put forth an argument that Rs one crore was advanced by A1 to Sasi Enterprises towards share capital and further it was submitted that on the security of the said amount, loan was borrowed by A1, and thus she cannot claim non-involvement with the firms".
The bench held that flow of money from one account to the other proved that there "existed active conspiracy to launder the ill-gotten wealth" of Jayalalithaa for purchasing properties in the names of the firms.
"The conspiracy among the accused persons is also proved by the evidence of Sub-Registrar, North Beach, Sub-Registrar office-PW.159 and the evidence of PW.71 Radha Krishnan, Horticultural officer," it noted.
The pronouncement of the verdict was completed in about eight minutes. Justice Ghose, before pronouncing the judgement, said "You can understand (that it is) too much of a fatty judgement. We have taken the burden on us."
Senior AIADMK MP Thambidurai, a Sasikala loyalist, said they will appeal against the verdict.
-- Read the SC judgment in full HERE