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Print edition : Oct 14, 2000 T+T-

In a politically significant verdict, a Special Judge convicts and sentences AIADMK leader and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha, along with others, to three years' and two years' rigorous imprisonment each in two corruption cases.

ON October 9, a Special Judge in Chennai convicted and sentenced All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) general secretary and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha to three years' rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs.10,000 in the "Ja ya Publications case", one of the two cases relating to the 'TANSI land deal.' In the other case, called the "Sasi Enterprises case", the Judge convicted and sentenced Jayalalitha to two years rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs.5,000. Her close assoc iate Sasikala Natarajan, who is an accused in both the cases, received similar sentences in each case. The sentences were passed under Sections 120-B (punishment of criminal conspiracy) and 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant or by banker, me rchant or agent) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Sections 13 (2) and 13 (1)(c) and (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA). The cases were filed by the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) of the Tamil Nadu police almost four years ago.

In his order in the Jaya Publications case, Special Judge Anbazhagan said that "the first accused (Jayalalitha) dishonestly abused her office" as Chief Minister and bought property belonging to the State-owned Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation (TAN SI) below the guideline value.

Judge Anbazhagan ordered the confiscation of the properties involved in both the cases.

The verdict has much political significance. As a consequence of the sentence passed on her, Jayalalitha cannot personally contest elections for a minimum of six years. State Assembly elections are slated to be held in April 2001.

Clause (3) of Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, entitled "Disqualification on conviction for certain offences" says: "A person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment of not less than two years (other than the offences men tioned in sub-section (1) and sub-section (2)) shall be disqualified from the date of such conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release."

Four others - former Chairman and Managing Director of TANSI T.R. Srinivasan, former Rural Industries Minister Mohammed Asif, former Special Deputy Collector (Stamps) S. Nagarajan and Jayalalitha's former Additional Secretary R. Karpoorasundarapandian - were sentenced to two years' rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs.10,000 each in the Jaya Publications case.

All the six persons were accused in the Sasi Enterprises case too. Judge Anbazhagan acquitted Asif in that case, but handed down similar sentences to the others. All the sentences will remain suspended until November 7 to enable the accused to appeal to the High Court.

THE charges in the first case are that Jaya Publications, in which Jayalalitha and Sasikala were partners, bought 3.07 acres of land and a building belonging to the government-owned TANSI Foundry at Guindy in Chennai at a price much lower than the guidel ine value and gained more than Rs.3.5 crores in the transaction. The sale took place when Jayalalitha was Chief Minister (1991-1996). Jayalalitha "abused her official position at every stage" in the property deal although no public interest was involved, the charge-sheet said. Since Jayalalitha was Chief Minister when she bought the property, she attracted the provisions of the PCA.

Jayalalitha and Sasikala were partners also in Sasi Enterprises, which is involved in the second case. The firm purchased property belonging to TANSI Enamelled Wires in Chennai when Jayalalitha was Chief Minister. According to the charge-sheet, Jayalalit ha and Sasikala obtained monetary advantage to the extent of Rs.66.11 lakhs in the transaction because Sasi Enterprises bought the property at a price much lower than the guideline value.

In his order in the Jaya Publications case, the Special Judge said that as per the Articles of Association of TANSI, TANSI lands should not be sold without government permission. Hence it was clear that the immovable properties of TANSI were under the go vernment control. Moreover, TANSI was a registered company and all its shares were held by the State government. Two prosecution witnesses vouched for this. TANSI had also obtained the government's permission to sell the land. "There was no force in the (defence) argument that TANSI was a private company," Anbazhagan ruled.

Anbazhagan accepted the prosecution argument that the "thought has arisen" from October 10, 1991 to buy the property of TANSI Foundry at a "low price" (below the guideline value) as was evident from the steps taken after a meeting held that day with Jaya lalitha in the chair. Srinivasan, Mohammed Asif, the then Chief Secretary, the Industries Secretary and the Finance Secretary were present at the meeting. The Special Judge said that when one took into account the arguments of both the prosecution and th e defence, and the nature of the case, it was clear that the accused were aware of the common motive mentioned in the charge-sheet. Anbazhagan added: "So nothing will be affected even if the words 'guideline value' are removed from the allegations, and t here will be no miscarriage of justice."

According to Anbazhagan, it should be "importantly noted" that the immovable properties such as land and buildings (of TANSI) were under the control of the first accused (Jayalalitha), who also held the Industries portfolio. The total extent of the TANSI Foundry was 3.07 acres. Of this, buildings occupied 2,698 square metres. The remaining land was vacant. If the vacant land had been parcelled into plots, they would have fetched a higher price to the exchequer, the Special Judge remarked. It was clear f rom the prosecution exhibit that instead of selling the vacant land as plots for industrial units, the entire land was sold to Jaya Publications because the first accused was a partner in it, he said. "This shows that the first accused dishonestly abused her office."

In both the cases, the accused were sentenced under Sections 13 (2), and 13 (1) (c) and (d) of the PCA too. Section 13 (2) of the PCA says: "Any public servant who commits criminal misconduct shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall b e not less than one year but which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine."

Section 13 (1) (c), entitled "Criminal Misconduct by a Public Servant", says: "A public servant is said to commit the offence of criminal misconduct if he dishonestly or fraudulently misappropriates or otherwise converts for his own use any property entr usted to him or under his control as a public servant or allows any other person to do so; or (d) if he, (1) by corrupt or illegal means, obtains for himself or for any other person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage; or (ii) by abusing his positi on as a public servant, obtains for himself or for any other person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage; or (iii) while holding office as a public servant, obtains for any person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without any public interest ."

The Judge held as not proved the charges under sections 169 and 119 of the IPC. The orders in the two cases were written in Tamil.

A BIG crowd of AIADMK leaders, advocates and mediapersons had gathered in the court hall an hour before the orders were to be pronounced. Around 10-25 a.m., Jayalalitha and Sasikala arrived, accompanied by T.T.V. Dinakaran, nephew of Sasikala and AIADMK Lok Sabha member from Periakulam. The Tamil Nadu Special Police and the Rapid Action Force had thrown a security cordon around the court complex.

The Judge took his seat in the court hall at 10-30 a.m. In a couple of minutes, he read out the convictions and sentences to the accused. He said he sentenced Asif to three years' rigorous imprisonment in the Jaya Publications case but acquitted him in t he Sasi Enterprises case. Asif asked him to tell him in English what he had said in Tamil and the Judge obliged. Jayalalitha's counsel N. Jothi requested Anbazhagan to be lenient in passing sentences. Then the Judge retired to his chamber. When the impli cations of the orders sank in, silence descended on the court hall.

The CB-CID filed the charge-sheet in the Jaya Publications case on November 15, 1996. The charge-sheet said the sale of a building belonging to the TANSI Foundry had taken place on March 4, 1992 and the pecuniary advantage gained by Jaya Publications in the deal amounted to more than Rs.3.5 crores. The State government suffered losses also because of the consequent reduction in the stamp duty and the registration fee, the charge-sheet said.

The charge-sheet in the Sasi Enterprises case was filed on October 22, 1997. It said that Jayalalitha and Sasikala had obtained a monetary advantage of Rs.66.11 lakhs in the transaction. According to the charge-sheet, newspapers carried advertisements on October 10, 1991 offering for sale land, machinery and a building belonging to TANSI Enamelled Wires. There were three responses and all of them were rejected on the grounds that the offers made were lower than guideline value. Another advertisement was run on December 12, 1991 and there were four offers, including one from Sasi Enterprises. The charge-sheet says that Srinivasan leaked out to Sasi Enterprises the offers quoted by the other three bidders. On the basis of that information, the charge-she et says, alterations were made in the offer made by Sasi Enterprises. It quoted the highest offer of Rs.79,54,650.

The charge-sheet says that the six accused entered into a criminal conspiracy between 1991 and 1993 and helped Sasi Enterprises in the purchase of the land, building and machinery of TANSI Enamelled Wires by undervaluing them. Although the guideline valu e of the land was Rs.90.53 lakhs, the amount mentioned in the sale deed was only Rs.53.04 lakhs. For the building, the sale deed was executed for Rs.16.15 lakhs against the guideline value of Rs.25.66 lakhs. The machinery too had been undervalued. In thi s deal too, the State government suffered losses because of the consequent reduction in registration fee and stamp duty, the charge-sheet said.

The CB-CID and the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) had filed nine cases of corruption against Jayalalitha and these were to be tried by three Special Judges. She was acquitted in the "colour television case". A Special Judge discharge d her in the "coal case" but the Supreme Court ruled against this order. In the Pleasant Stay Hotel case, she was convicted and sentenced to one year's rigorous imprisonment. Trial is under way in the "disproportionate wealth" case, in which she is accus ed of amassing wealth to the extent of Rs.66.65 crores, disproportionate to her known sources of income when she was Chief Minister. Charge-sheets are yet to be filed in the "granite" and "Meena Advertisers" case. The DVAC filed a First Information Repor t (FIR) in a fresh case of disproportionate wealth against her on September 2, 2000, linking her to the purchase of two hotels in England, totally valued around Rs.248 crores.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed the charge-sheet on August 18 in the SPIC-TIDCO case (Southern Petrochemical Industries Corporation-Tamil Nadu Industries Development Corporation). The CBI is yet to file the charge-sheet in the $300,000 "i mmunity case" against her.

G. Krishnamurthy and G. Jawaharlal, Special Public Prosecutors in the TANSI cases, cited Section 8 (3) of the Representation of the People Act to support their contention that Jayalalitha cannot contest the coming elections. Jawaharlal said that since sh e had been sentenced to jail terms of two years and three years in the two cases she remained disqualified from contesting. "She cannot contest even if the Madras High Court (on an appeal) suspends the sentence. She cannot contest unless and until the Hi gh Court sets aside and quashes the judgment," he said. Krishnamurthy added that she could not contest even if the High Court stayed the sentence. "As long as the conviction stands, she cannot contest." According to him, the Election Commission does not come into the picture. "If Jayalalitha were to file her nomination papers from a constituency, and somebody approaches the Returning Officer with a petition that she had been convicted to two years' and three years' prison terms in two cases, how can she contest ?" Krishnamurthy asked.

THERE was gloom in the AIADMK headquarters on Avvai Shanmugam Salai in Chennai. Jayalalitha postponed a meeting of the general council, her party's highest policy-making body, which was scheduled to be held on October 10. An AIADMK press release alleged that a number of partymen at various levels had been arrested all over Tamil Nadu on October 8 before the orders were passed. "Since the Karunanidhi Government is creating an artificial atmosphere of not allowing the district, town and panchayat represen tatives to attend the AIADMK general council meeting, it is being postponed," the press release said. It added that Jayalalitha's tour of the southern districts was postponed because the Karunanidhi government, in order to "ruin her tour", was arresting AIADMK leaders who wanted to organise her tour in a grand manner. Meanwhile, an advertisement in the AIADMK organ Namadhu MGR said that Sasikala had been made a member of the general council.

It remains to be seen how the AIADMK's allies will react to the implied bar on Jayalalitha contesting elections. G.K. Moopanar, president of the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), said that his party had only forged a "secular front" with the AIADMK and not a n "electoral front". Will the AIADMK's allies such as the TMC, the Congress(I), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Dalit Panthers continue to ally themselves with her or will they form a Third Front? There is no bar on Jayalalitha heading her party's or its allies' election campaign.

Senior Counsel N. Natarajan was the Senior Special Public Prosecutor in these two cases, as is the case with the other corruption cases filed against Jayalalitha by the CB-CID and the DVAC.

A.A. Jambukumaran, Additional Superintendent of Police, CB-CID, was the Investigating Officer in the two cases. After the verdicts were announced, he said: "I sincerely felt that there was a case because a public servant is in the position of a trustee." Jambukumaran praised the role played by Natarajan in "analysing and assessing the evidence" in the two cases.

Krishnamurthy, Jawaharlal and R. Karunakaran were Special Public Prosecutors in the two cases. Advocates N.R. Ilango and Sundar Mohan assisted Natarajan.