New Delhi/Chennai, 14 Feb 2017: AIADMK chief V K Sasikala’s hope of becoming chief minister of Tamil Nadu was today dealt a body blow with the Supreme Court upholding her conviction in a corruption case, a verdict that bars her from contesting polls for nearly 10 years.
A close aide of late chief minister J Jayalalithaa, 60-year-old Sasikala, who is locked in a bitter struggle for power in the ruling AIADMK with Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, was ordered to surrender forthwith and serve the remaining part of her four-year jail term. The AIADMK general secretary has already served almost six months in jail.
In a keenly awaited verdict in the 19-year-old disproportionate assets case that also involved Jayalalithaa which will have a direct bearing on the political uncertainty that has gripped the state for the last 10 days, the court restored in toto the judgement and the findings of the trial court in Bengaluru which held all the accused including Sasikala’s two relatives, V N Sudhakaran and Elavarasi guilty.
The two-judge bench comprising Justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy directed Sasikala and the two relatives to surrender forthwith to the trial court in Bengaluru and serve the remaining part of four-year jail term.
The verdict disqualifies Sasikala from becoming a legislator and consequentially she can’t be chief minister either for six years from the date of release of prison under the Representation of the People Act.
Police presence was stepped up at a resort about 80 km from Chennai, where MLAs supporting Sasikala have been housed since the past few days. Sasikala herself stayed overnight at the resort.
The bench read the operative portion of the voluminous judgement saying that "according to the materials and evidence place on record, we set aside the judgement and the order of the high court and affirm in toto the judgement and order the trial court convicting the accused persons." The bench said since Jayalalithaa has expired, the proceeding against her is abated. She died on December 5.
"Nevertheless, we reiterate that having regard to the facts, the charge framed against them by the trial court is restored," the bench said. "Since the charges framed by the trial court have been restored against all of them they will surrender forthwith before the trial court and serve the remaining part of the sentence," it said.
Minutes after the Supreme Court verdict, the AIADMK appeared to defend her, saying she had always carried the burden of the late Jayalalithaa. "Whenever there had been burden for Amma (Jayalalithaa) she (Sasikala) had taken it on her. She is doing the same now also. #Chinnamma," the party’s official Twitter handle, @AIADMKOfficial said.
The verdict came even as Panneerselvam won more support from party MPs and MLAs. The trial court had sentenced Sasikala and her two relatives to four years imprisonment with a fine of Rs 10 crore each. Jayalalithaa was sentenced to four years with a fine of Rs 100 crore.
On June 7 last year, the apex court had reserved its verdict in the case after hearing detailed arguments from all the parties including the Karnataka government. On July 27, 2015, the apex court had issued notices on Karnataka government’s appeal seeking stay of the high court judgement to Jayalalithaa, Sasikala and her relatives.
The Karnataka HC had on May 11, 2015 ruled that Jayalalithaa’s conviction by special court suffered from infirmity and was not sustainable in law, clearing decks for her return as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister.
The special court had in 2014 held Jayalalithaa guilty of corruption and sentenced her to four years imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 100 crore. Jayalalithaa and three others were accused of allegedly amassing disproportionate asserts to the tune of Rs 66.65 crore during her first term as Chief Minister from 1991 to 1996.