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A single judge bench of Karnataka High Court has allowed the appeals and acquitted former Chief Minister of Tamilnadu – Jayalalithaa and three other co-accused of all charges in the disproportionate assets case. The judgment was pronounced by Justice C.R Kumaraswamy at 11 a.m on 11 May 2015.
A single judge bench of Karnataka High Court has allowed the appeals and acquitted Jayalalithaa and three other co-accused of all charges in the disproportionate assets case. The judgment was pronounced by Justice C.R Kumaraswamy at 11 a.m on 11 May 2015. The judgment runs into 919 pages.
Conviction at Trial Court
On 27 September 2014, the 36th Additional City Civil & Sessions Judge (Special Court for Trial of Criminal Cases against Jayalalitha & Ors.), Bengaluru had found Jayalalithaa guilty of accumulating Rs 53 crore of illegal assets. The trial of this case which pertains to the time period of 1991-96, was transferred to Karnataka in 2003 by Supreme Court. Special judge John Michael Cunha sentenced Jayalalithaa to four years in jail and fined Rs 100 crore. N Sasikala, VN Sudhakaran and J Elasvarasi are the other co-accused who were convicted.
Bail rejected by HC, granted by SC
After her conviction Jayalalitha and other convicts approached the Karnataka High Court with their appeals against conviction along with applications for bail. On 7 October 2014 Karnataka High Court refused to grant them a bail. Subsequently they approached Supreme Court, where Jayalatlita was represented by Senior Advocate Fali S. Nariman. On 17 October 2014, Supreme Court bench headed by CJI HL Dattu granted them a bail and asked Karnataka High Court to complete hearing on appeal in three months’ time.
On 18 December 2014, Supreme Court extended Jayalalithaa’s bail by four months and ordered that her appeal challenging conviction in Karnataka High Court be conducted on day-to-day basis by a Special Bench.
Appointment of Public Prosecutor challenged
On 26 February 2015, DMK General Secretary K Anbazhagan moved Supreme Court seeking stay of case against Jayalalithaa questioning impartiality of SPP Bhawani Singh.
Meanwhile, on 11 March 2015, Karnataka High Court reserved its order on the appeals by Jayalalithaa and three others.
On 15 April 2015 after a Supreme Court bench of Justices MB Lokur and R Banumathi gave a split verdict on plea seeking removal of Bhawani Singh in Jayalalithaa’s DA case before Karnataka High Court and matter was referred to a larger bench.
The three-judge bench presided over by Justice Dipak Misra, on 27 April 2015, though held that Bhawani Singh’s appointment was ‘bad in law’ yet observed that there was no justification to direct for de novo hearing of the appeal. However bench allowed Anbazhagan and State of Karnataka to file written submissions in High Court.
On 11 May 2015, the single judge of Karnataka acquitted Jayalalitha and her three aids of all the charges.
Observations of the High Court in acquittal:
The single judge re-appreciated the evidence observing:
In an appeal by some of the convicted persons, it is open to this Court as an appellate Court to examine the entire evidence. The powers of the appellate Court under this Section are the same as those of the Trial Court. If after examining the evidence, this Court is in a position to say that the findings arrived at are erroneous, or contrary to evidence then not only there is no legal prohibition to do so but in the interest of justice, that must be done.
Regarding the testimony of certain witnesses, Court observed:
It is the contention of the learned counsel for the appellants that without treating the witnesses as hostile, the witnesses were recalled and cross-examined. The questions are put in such a manner that whether what they have stated in the examination-in-chief is correct or in the cross-examination is correct by securing answer to this question and also by adopting this method, they cannot wipe-out the answers elicited in the cross-examination. This is also one of the factors, which weigh in favour of the accused. If the witness gives different statements at different stages, it is unsafe to place reliance on them.
Upon the perusal of the evidence, inter alia single judge observed:
In this case, the Trial Court has ignored the Income Tax proceedings as minimum evidentiary value. The Trial Court has not appreciated the evidence in a proper perspective. Though the Trial Court in its judgment mentioned that the accused availed loan by the Indian Bank, but it has not considered the same as income. Therefore, the Trial Court has erred in not considering the loans as income.
Single judge finally concluded:
Taking into consideration of overall circumstances and material placed on record, in my view, the Judgment and finding recorded by the Trial Court suffers from infirmity and it is not sustainable in law.