A visit by a Judge of the Madras High Court to Malaysia raises a controversy.T.S. SUBRAMANIAN
"A JUDGE shall not accept gifts of hospitality except from his family, close relations and friends." This is the tenth item of "Restatement of Values of Judicial Life," a code of conduct adopted by the conference of Chief Justices of High Courts in New D elhi in December 1999.
However, a sitting Judge of the Madras High Court, Justice S. Thangaraj, not only travelled to Malaysia in October last year in the company of S.K. Krishnamoorthy (50), a real estate dealer, against whom several cases of cheating, wrongful confinement an d rioting are pending but accepted the hospitality of one Jayabal at Ipoh, near Kuala Lumpur. Jayabal reportedly paid the hotel room bills of Krishnamoorthy, Justice Thangaraj, and two others during their 10-day stay at Ipoh from October 16 to 26, 1999. The other two were S. Selvarathinam, retired Deputy Commissioner of Police, Intelligence, and C. Selvaraj (45), a practising lawyer.
Justice S. Thangaraj, by himself and, in the group picture, next to S. Krishnamoorthy (second from right) and others, photographed in Malaysia.
On February 11, Chennai Police Commissioner P. Kalimuthu ordered the detention of Krishnamoorthy under the Goondas Act. He was arrested on January 30, 2000 on a complaint from a financier, Veluchamy, that Krishnamoorthy threatened him by pointing a revol ver at his neck. According to informed sources, there were cases relating to the violation of immigration laws against Jayabal filed by Malaysian officials.
The Judge's name is found as "Thangaraj S. Justice" in the passenger manifest of the Air-India flight AI 483 from Kuala Lumpur to Chennai on October 26. It was Krishnamoorthy who bought the air tickets for himself, Justice Thangaraj and Selvarathinam. Ju stice Thangaraj later paid him for his tickets, Krishnamoorthy told the police.
Justice Thangaraj's conduct raises serious questions of propriety, especially in the context of Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr. A.S. Anand emphasising that the need for "in-house procedures for higher judiciary cannot be doubted at the present juncture. " The CJI made this comment while inaugurating the conferences of Chief Justices. Dr. Anand added: "The existing situation in some high courts emphasises the need for serious consideration of this issue."
In January this year, Union Law Minister Ram Jethmalani, while reiterating the Centre's resolve to set up a National Judicial Commission, said he was not satisfied with the code of conduct evolved by the Supreme Court. Jethmalani said that "a list of dos and don'ts as to how a judge should behave will be specified" (The Hindu, January 6).
THE questions that need to be answered in this context are: Did Justice Thangaraj obtain the permission of the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court before travelling to Malaysia? Did he apply to the Reserve Bank of India for foreign exchange?
Justice Thangaraj's conduct has been widely reported in the Tamil press with pictures of the Judge, Krishanmoorthy, Selvarathinam and Selvaraj taken at different settings in Malaysia, but surprisingly there has been no response from the judiciary.
When reporters asked M. Karunanidhi on February 1 about Justice Thangaraj's trip, the Chief Minister replied, "What can I say about it? This is a matter to be gone into by the court and the Chief Justice. I cannot say anything." When a reporter said that he was raising the issue because the person with whom the Judge travelled had criminal cases against him, the Chief Minister said, "If the reports are true, it is highly condemnable and regrettable. When one takes into account the newspaper reports, it appears that they are true. I expect those concerned to take suitable action."
Krishnamoorthy runs S.K. Real Estates and S.K. Videos in Anna Nagar, Chennai. A press note issued by the Police Department on February 11, after Krishnamoorthy was detained under the Goondas' Act, said that he had pledged his house with industrialist (an d financier) Veluchamy for Rs.10 lakhs. When Veluchamy repeatedly demanded the money back, Krishanamoorthy said he would sell his house to Jayabal of Malaysia and return the money. Veluchamy then took legal steps to have the house auctioned.
Krishnamoorthy went to Veluchamy's office at Villivakkam, Chennai, and demanded the return of the house documents. When Veluchamy refused, Krishnamoorthy took out a revolver and threatened to kill him, the press note said.
On a complaint from Veluchamy, the Rajamangalam police registered a case against Krishnamoorthy under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (including attempt to murder and assault) and the Indian Arms Act, arrested him on January 30 and seized his u nlicensed revolver. There are several other cases pending against him.
Informed sources said Krishnamoorthy boasted to a police sub-inspector at Rajamangalam that he enjoyed a lot of clout with magistrates, IAS and IPS officers, and had gone to Malaysia with Justice Thangaraj. When the sub-inspector searched Krishna-moorthy 's house, he found goods obtained from Malaysia there. The sources said Krishnamoorthy took the police to his mother's house and gave them the photographs taken in Malaysia.
It was on October 16 that Justice Thangaraj, Krishna-moorthy and Selva-rathinam flew together to Malaysia. Selvaraj had flown to Kuala Lumpur earlier in the day to arrange for transport for them there. Krishnamoorthy, Justice S. Thangaraj and Selvarathin am stayed together in Malaysia and returned together to Chennai on October 26. They travelled both ways in economy class.
The sources quoted Krishnamoorthy as having said that he had bought the flight tickets but Justice Thangaraj paid him the sum later. Krishnamoorthy also reportedly told the police that he paid some of the Judge's bills in Malaysia and that the Judge retu rned the money later here. Jayabal reportedly settled the room bills for the four persons.
Informed sources said that Krishnamoorthy revealed to the police that he had paid the rent for the marriage hall where the wedding of Justice Thangaraj's son was celebrated on July 11, 1999. But the cheque that Krishnamoorthy gave for Rs.26,000 bounced. The cheque, drawn on HDFC Bank and dated April 21, 1999, bore the number 129994. He, however, paid up in cash on May 19, 1999. According to Krishnamoorthy, the Judge later paid the rent amount to him.
IT was Justice Thangaraj who, on January 13, discharged Jayalalitha, former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and general secretary of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) from two corruption cases against her. He set aside the order of Special Judge P. Anbazhagan framing charges against her in the "Jaya Publications case" and the "Sasi Enterprises case", both together called the "TANSI cases" (Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation). The same day, Justice Thangaraj upheld the order of another Special Judge, V. Radhakrishnan, discharging Jayalalitha from another corruption case relating to the import of coal by the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (Frontline, February 4, 2000).
In the High Court, Justice A. Ramamurthi and Justice Thangaraj were the Judges who heard criminal appeals. On August 3, 1999, when the TANSI case relating to Jayalalitha was posted before Justice Ramamurthi, her counsel N. Jothi mentioned that the matter had already been dealt with by Justice Ramamurthi when he was Principal Sessions Judge. So Justice Ramamurthi posted the matter to the Chief Justice. The then Chief Justice specially allotted the matter to Justice Thangaraj. The TANSI case was posted be fore him on October 7 and 14. But the hearing was adjourned on both days. The High Court had Dasara vacation from October 16 to 24. Justice Thangaraj went to Malaysia on October 16 and resumed duty on October 27. Hearings were completed in the TANSI and coal cases on December 20. On January 13, 2000, he passed orders discharging Jayalalitha from these cases. The Government has gone on appeal to the Supreme Court against these verdicts.
On February 3, Jayalalitha showed press reporters photographs of Krishnamoorthy with Karunanidhi and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) general secretary Vaiko. When reporters asked Karunanidhi about this on February 4, he said many people met Chief Ministers and Ministers on their birthdays. "It is not possible to ask them for their addresses and whether they have gone to jail, before they garland us. If the well-known sandalwood smuggler Veerappan comes, he can be prevented," the Chief Mini ster observed sarcastically.
Replying to a question on Krishnamoorthy, Karunanidhi said that several cases of cheating had been registered against him since 1991. Asked what Krishnamoorthy and others did in Malaysia for ten days, Karunanidhi replied: "It is said that all those thing s are being inquired into. Those who should inquire will properly inquire." On whether a police team had gone to Malaysia, the Chief Minister said: "No comments."