From trial court verdict by John Michael D'Cunha

Print edition : June 12, 2015

John Michael D'Cunha. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

From the trial court verdict by John Michael D’Cunha, September 27, 2014

1 . “Ill-gotten wealth”: Judge D’Cunha asserted repeatedly that all the “ill-gotten wealth” amassed by Jayalalithaa when she was Chief Minister from 1991 to 1996 belonged to her and nobody else. He reiterated that the real source of acquisition of wealth by the four accused was Jayalalithaa. “I hold that all the assets and pecuniary resources found in the possession of” Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi and “in the name of various firms and companies” owned by the four accused “actually belong to” Jayalalithaa, the judge said. He concluded that “the prosecution could show that there was no real source of income” with Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi and that “the public servant is the real source”.

2. Marriage expenses: The prosecution estimated that Jayalalithaa spent Rs.6.45 crore for the marriage of Sudhakaran, then her foster son. Judge D’Cunha scaled it down to Rs.3 crore. He did not agree with the defence version that the marriage expenses were met by the bride’s family. He said, “If in fact, the marriage expenses were met by the bride’s family, …there was no reason for A-1 [Jayalalithaa] to make payments by issuing her cheques in connection with the marriage expenses. The very fact [that] all the original documents, receipts and cheque leaves belonging to A-1 were seized from the office of prosecution witness 228, the auditor of A-1, is itself sufficient to hold that the entire expenses were met only by A-1.” Besides, he said, Jayalalithaa admitted in her replies to Income Tax officials that she had spent Rs.98 lakh on the marriage.

Judge D’Cunha rejected the claim of Ramkumar, the first defence witness (DW1) and maternal uncle of the bride, Sathyavathi, that the bride’s family spent Rs.92 lakh on the wedding. “We met the entire expenses of that marriage as we are the bride’s people,” Ramkumar said in testimony. Ramkumar produced a photocopy of the savings bank account of a bank passbook and testified that the savings account was opened to take care of the wedding expenses and that Rs.92 lakh was remitted to the account. The judge said that although the Public Prosecutor verified the original passbook with its photocopy, a photocopy of a document was not admissible as evidence in courts. The passbook produced before the court did not contain the name of the branch that issued it or the seal of the branch office, “which creates a serious doubt about the genuineness and authenticity of the document”, he said. Furthermore, the judge said, “The account details do not show that the amounts were spent for the marriage…. The opening of a bank account to meet the marriage expenses is strange and unnatural…. There is not even a stray sentence in his [Ramkumar’s] entire evidence that he made the payments through cheques from the above account towards the marriage expenses.” Judge D’Cunha declared that he was of the “firm opinion that the entire marriage expenses were borne only by A-1”.

3. Namadhu MGR’s subscription deposit scheme: The daily brought out by Jaya Publications floated a deposit scheme for subscribers, which attracted several thousand subscribers and fetched a revenue of Rs.14 crore for the company. If the subscribers paid Rs.12,000, Rs.15,000 or Rs.18,000, they would get multiple copies of the newspaper. Counsel for the accused argued that Rs.14 crore should be considered lawful income.

Judge D’Cunha used 41 pages of his judgment to rip apart the scheme. What emerged from the evidence of the defence witnesses was that “the story” of the deposit scheme was born only after the police filed the charge sheet against the accused on June 4, 1997, he stated. The judge elaborated on how “fabricated application forms” received for the scheme were made to look old to give the impression that the forms were received during the check period (July 1, 1991, to April 30, 1996). “It is only after the filing of the charge sheet that the accused seemed to have masterminded” this defence with the “active connivance” of a defence witness “in a bid to offer an explanation for the huge unaccounted money found” with Jayalalithaa, he stated. Besides, there was nothing in the entire evidence indicating that the accused had declared the said deposit before Income Tax officials at any time during the check period.

He talked about how the forms were “kept in sunlight or exposed to smoke so as to give them an appearance of old, used papers” and about how the ink was “fresh and recent, belying the very claim of the accused that the said applications were obtained during the check period” ( Frontline, October 31, 2014).

4. Cost of construction: Judge D’Cunha estimated the cost of construction of new and additional buildings by the accused at Rs.21 crore. The estimate by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) was Rs.27.79 crore.

5. Value of immovable assets: Judge D’Cunha did not give a separate assessment of the value of the immovable assets such as agricultural land, building sites, and so on bought by the accused. The value of the disproportionate assets owned by the accused, he said, was determined on the basis of the actual cost incurred by them in buying the properties from 1991 to 1996. He said: “That was the time when the accused could buy 900 acres of plantation land for Rs.7.5 crore and ordinary agricultural land for just Rs.10,000 per acre. At that rate, the entire village could have been purchased for Rs.53 crore. The magnitude of the assets acquired by the accused has to be viewed in that background. Even otherwise, the total extent of land purchased by the accused either in their individual names or in the names of firms and companies comes to nearly 3,000 acres and their present market value is left to our imagination.”

6. Criminal conspiracy: Judge D’Cunha found it strange that Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi were living with Jayalalithaa in her residence at Poes Garden in Chennai when they were not even her relatives. What made them live with Jayalalithaa when each of them had a separate family had not been explained, he said. What went behind the quantum of sentence he awarded was the manner in which the accused acquired a string of assets, he said. It was proved in evidence that substantial funds accumulated by A-1 were credited to the account of Jaya Publications and from there they were diverted to other accounts and ultimately used to acquire huge assets. Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi were allowed to live in Jayalalithaa’s residence consequent to the criminal conspiracy plotted by them to hold Jayalalithaa’s assets, the judge said. The flow of money from one account to other accounts, as shown in his judgment, “would establish beyond reasonable doubt that all the accused persons have actively participated in the conspiracy to launder the ill-gotten wealth”.

In furtherance of the conspiracy, Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi went on a spree of buying even defunct companies, opening bank accounts and buying big properties in the names of these companies out of the funds provided by Jayalalithaa, the judge said.

7. Abetment: The trial court judge held that Sasikala, Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi actively abetted the commission of the crime by holding substantial portions of the assets [of Jayalalithaa] in their names and in the partnership firms set up by them. His conclusion was that these firms were set up “only to siphon off the unlawful resources accumulated by A-1”.

8. Confiscation: All the immovable properties registered in the names of Lex Property Developments Private Limited, Meadow Agro Farms Private Limited, Ramraj Agro Mills Private Limited, Signora Business Enterprises (P) Limited, Riverway Agro Products (P) Limited, and Indo-Doha Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Limited, which had the accused as partners and had already been attached under government orders, shall be confiscated by the State government, the trial judge said.

9. Amount of disproportionate assets: Judge D’Cunha calculated the total assets found in the possession of Jayalalithaa as on April 30, 1996, at Rs.55.02 crore. Her expenditure during the check period was Rs.8.49 crore. These two totalled up to Rs.63.51 crore. Her total income from all sources was Rs.9.91 crore. The value of disproportionate assets and pecuniary resources found in the possession of the accused

as on April 30, 1996, “which has not been satisfactorily explained” is Rs.53.60 crore, Judge D’Cunha stated. He convicted and sentenced all the four accused to imprisonment under different sections of the PCA

and the IPC.

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