J.Jayalalitha acquitted in Disproportionate Assets Case

Karnataka High Court: Providing a major relief to former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalitha in the Disproportionate Assets case the bench of C.R. Kamaraswamy J., set aside the decision of the Sessions Judge, Bengaluru dated 27.09.2014, convicting her of amassing disproportionate wealth under Section 13(1)(e) read with Section 13(2) of Prevention of Corruption Act and under Section 120-B of IPC read with Section 13(1)(e) read with Section 13(2) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, and acquitted her and other accused of the charges as the decision of the Trial Court suffered from infirmity.

The case was initiated on a complaint filed by  former president of Janata Party, Subramanian Swamy who alleged that the property of the appellant was , disproportionate of her Rs.1 as monthly income during her tenure as CM (1991-1996). He further alleged that the appellant conspired with three others to acquire assets worth Rs. 66.65 crores. She further spent crores on her foster son’s wedding and possessed a huge quantity of jewellery.

Counsels for the appellant L.N Rao and B. Kumar cited around 65 case laws and contended before the Court that the Investigating Officer had assessed all the properties of all the accused persons to the extent of Rs.64,42,89,616. The appellants also contended that incase if the investigation agency is unable to investigate in respect of the income of the accused, then Section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act has to be pressed into service. Special Public Prosecutor B.V. Acharya contended that the appeals are not maintainable in law as the State of Karnataka which is the sole prosecuting agency has not been made a party. Omission to implead the State of Karnataka as a party is a fatal defect and as the defect has not been cured even subsequently.The prosecution further contended that it has verily established by circumstantial evidence that the properties in question have been acquired by the appellant out of her ill- gotten wealth. Subramanian Swamy further put forth his argument that financial status of the appellant prior to her becoming the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu showed ‘nil’ Income and Wealth in 1985-86, after ceased to be an actress since 1979. After becoming Chief Minister, she doubled her income, tripled her wealth despite of drawing only Rs.1 per month as salary of Chief Minister. The Court at length discussed the depositions of every prosecution and defense witness and the evidences and the income tax returns filed by the appellants.

The Court on perusing all the evidences, observed that known source of income means known source of income to the prosecution after a thorough investigation and the onus of satisfactorily accounting for it is not as heavy. An onus is on the prosecution to prove its case beyond all possibility of doubt. It was further observed that Where a public servant, is found to be in possession of disproportionate assets, the burden is on him to satisfactorily account for his possession of such assets, however, they are not bound to prove  innocence beyond all reasonable doubt. commenting upon the contruction expenses of the appellants, the Court observed that the assessment has been made on basis of guesswork rather than using the actual price prevailing during the check period. Many fallacies in the statements of the witnesses presented by the prosecution were pointed out by the Court. The Court did not accept the challenge to the maintainability of the appeal put forth by the prosecution. The Court also stated that the Trial Court had failed to appreciate the evidence in a proper perspective. The immovable properties were acquired by borrowing huge loan from the Nationalized Banks, thus it is difficult to infer that the properties were acquired by means of ill-gotten money. Further the Trial Court had ignored the evidentiary value of the Income Tax proceedings

The Court was of the view that prosecution has failed to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt. The Court calculated the Disproportionate Assets as 8.12% of the income and relying on the judgment in Krishnanand Agnihotri v. State of M.P. (1977)1 SCC 816, in which relaxation up to 10% disproportionate assets was given, the Court acquitted the accused persons. Selvi J. Jayalalitha v. State2015 SCC OnLine Kar 124 decided on May 11, 2015 

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