In a major setback to former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, the Supreme Court on Friday declined to stay the trial against her in a 14-year-old disproportionate assets case being heard in Karnataka.
A bench headed by Justice B Sudershan Reddy, however, directed the trial court to fix a time-frame for cross examination of the 42 witnesses after giving sufficient opportunity to Jayalalithaa.
The apex court passed the order by dismissing the Special Leave Petition filed by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supremo challenging the March 10 verdict of the Karnataka high court, which held that the trial court order taking congnisance of the complaint on June 5, 1997, did not suffer from any illegality or irregularity.
The case was transferred to a Bangalore court by the Supreme Court in 2003 during her chief ministership, acting on a petition filed by Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam leader K Anbazhagan, saying the manner in which the Chennai trial court had proceeded with the case raised doubts over a free and fair trial.
Assailing the March 10 order of the high court, Jayalalithaa had submitted that the chargesheet did not make out any case against her. The petition claimed the special judge in Chennai had not applied his mind and cognisance of the chargesheet of June 5, 1997, was taken mechanically. Her petition added that the case was transferred at the instance of her political rival from Tamil Nadu.
The AIADMK chief is accused of amassing Rs 66.65 crore between 1991 and 1996 when she was the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Her appeal pointed out that the high court did not address the specific issues raised by her and, hence, its order was unsustainable by law. She also contended that the entire proceeding was directed to harass her and the high court failed to take this aspect into account.
The high court had rejected Jayalalithaa's plea for quashing a 1997 order of a Chennai trial court, which took cognisance of Tamil Nadu Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption's complaint that she amassed wealth disproportionate to her known sources of income during that period.
The high court had said Jayalalithaa was 'ably represented by eminent lawyers', had participated in the trial of the case, during which 200 witnesses were examined and cross-examined over a 13-year period.
"It is not open for her now to seek quashing of the proceedings on the premises that the order taking cognisance of the offence passed on June 5, 1997, is a nullity and is not in accordance with law," it had said in the order.