Jayalalithaa acquitted; set to return as CM

The Karnataka High Court has acquitted AIADMK chief and former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalilathaa, in the 19-year-old disproportionate assets case, setting stage for her comeback as Tamil Nadu chief minister.

AIADMK chief and former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J JayalilathaaThe high court has overturned a Bengaluru trial court judgment and acquitted Jayalalithaa and her three associates in the disproportionate assets case.

Besides Jayalalithaa, the single bench judge exonerated her close aide Sasikala Natarajan and the latter's relatives J Elavarasi and Jayalalithaa's disowned foster son V N Sudhakaran.

Jayalalithaa had gone on appeal against the judgement of the special court judge John Michael D'Cunha who had, on 27 September last year, held Jayalalithaa and three others guilty of corruption and awarded four years jail term. The verdict had led to her disqualification as an MLA and she had to resign as chief minister.

The judge had also slapped a fine of Rs100 crore on her and Rs10 crore each on three other convicts (See: Jayalalithaa to serve 4 years in jail, pay Rs100 crore fine in assets case).

''All the appeals have been upheld and the convicts have been acquitted,'' Justice CR Kumaraswamy said as he read out the operative part of the judgement at 11 am.

Jayalalithaa issued a statement thanking the people of Tamil Nadu for "reposing faith" in her. She also thanked God for "the gift of people's love".

"It is not just a victory for me, but it is a victory for truth and the victory for the people of Tamil Nadu," said Jayalalithaa in her statement.

Launching an all-out attack on the DMK, she said the opposition could not win against her politically or electorally and tried to ruin her career through other ways but "finally justice has prevailed."

"It is the defeat of the DMK conspiracy to destroy me and AIADMK. The DMK had conspired to defame and malign my legacy and the legacy of my mentor, MGR," said the AIADMK chief.

"It gives me immense satisfaction and has removed the slander cast on me out of political vendetta. The verdict has shown I have not committed any wrong. It has helped me emerge as gold further refined by fire," she added.

She also "recalled with sorrow the demise of 233 party workers", who lost their lives after the special court in Karnataka convicted her in the corruption case.

"I don't consider it as a personal victory, justice has been established, dharma has won."

DMK president M Karunanidhi said the Karnataka HC's verdict was "not the final" one.

"What has been pronounced today is not the final verdict. I would like to remind one and all about Mahatma Gandhi's saying there is a court above all courts and that is conscience," he said in a statement.

While the high court's clean chit enables her to assume reins of office at Fort St George, one year ahead of the assembly elections due in Tamil Nadu, Election Commission sources say Jayalalithaa will have to contest the election again to become a member of the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly.

B Kumar, senior counsel for Jayalalithaa, however, said the prosecution case made by the ''then DMK government now stands dismissed. The consequence of this pronouncement is that she is entitled to resume the office of chief minister.''

Kumar said the prosecution had failed to establish and prove the value of civil constructions valued at Rs28 crore, as part of the case, and the high court upheld Jayalalithaa's version that the construction cost is reasonable and acceptable.

The court had also among others held the defendants' contention that the trial court had overlooked and not considered the binding nature of various income tax orders and decisions of the appellate tribunal of the income tax which had accepted the income and level of expenditure of Jayalalithaa, he said.

The HC judgement comes a day ahead of the three-month deadline set by the Supreme Court to complete the hearing on the appeals.

Special public prosecutor B V Acharya said the state of Karnataka, which was the sole prosecuting agency in this case, had been ''denied adequate opportunity before the high court.''

He said as the public prosecutor appointed by the state government he was denied an opportunity to convince high court judge through oral arguments, which had ''seriously prejudiced'' the case of the prosecution.

Following conviction by the special court, Jayalalithaa had moved the Karnataka High Court challenging her conviction and sought bail. Since the high court denied her bail, Jayalalithaa moved the Supreme Court seeking bail.

On 17 October 2014, the Supreme Court had granted her bail after 21 days in prison and was released from prison on bail on 18 October (SC grants bail to Jayalalithaa, suspends sentence).

The Supreme Court had, on 8 December last year, extended Jayalalithaa's bail by four months. A bench headed by CJI HL Dattu had also ordered that her appeal challenging conviction in Karnataka High Court be conducted on day-to-day basis by a special bench.

Justice Kumaraswamy, who heard the appeals, had reserved the order on 11 March after defence counsel filed their replies challenging written submissions made by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, the original complainant in the case.

DMK general secretary K Anbazhagan, on whose petition the assets case was transferred to Bengaluru from Chennai, had moved the Supreme Court challenging the appointment of G Bhavani Singh as special public prosecutor by Tamil Nadu government for the appeals.

The Supreme Court had held as ''bad in law'' the appointment of Singh but ruled out fresh hearing in the appeal against her conviction.

After the apex court order, senior advocate BV Acharya was appointed special public prosecutor by the Karnataka government and he had on 29 April filed a written submission in the high court praying for dismissal of appeals filed by Jayalalithaa and others.

With the trial verdict failing to pass the higher court's scrutiny, it is a political bonanza for Jayalalithaa who had to step down as Chief Minister after her disqualification following the conviction.

The special court verdict had disqualified her under the Representation of the People Act from contesting elections for a period of 10 years - four years from the date of conviction and six years thereafter.

The judgement in favour of Jayalalithaa is expected to alter the political course in the state, which will go to assembly polls in about a year.