Bengaluru/Chennai: AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa was cleared of corruption charges by the Karnataka High Court in the disproportionate assets case, a verdict that puts her firmly on the saddle of a political comebacki.
It is learnt Jayalalithaa will be sworn on Wednesday in as Tamil Nadu chief minister, a post she had to give up last September due to a trial court’s conviction in this case.
Pronouncing the verdict in a jam-packed court, Justice C R Kumaraswamy also acquitted AIADMK’s chief close aide Sasikala Natarajan and her relatives J Elavarasi and V N
Sudhakaran, also Jayalalithaa’s disowned foster son.
As the court proceedings got underway sharp at 11 am, the judge straightway read out the operative part of the verdict on the appeals filed by Jayalalithaa and three others,
challenging their conviction by the trial court.
Victory celebrations broke out immediately outside her Poes Garden residence in Chennai where party workers shook their legs and burst crackers. Celebrations also broke out across Tamil Nadu.
The appeals were filed by Ms Jayalalithaa and three others against the special court Judge Michael D’Cunha’s September 27 verdict sentencing them to four years in jail and imposing a hefty fine of Rs 100 crore on her and Rs 10 crore each on three others.
The acquittal will now enable a big political comeback for Jayalalithaa, who has waged many legal battles and seen several ups and downs in her political career.
During the hearing of the appeal, Jayalalithaa had contended that the then DMK government-led investigation had deliberately over-valued her assets and she had acquired the property, including jewellery, through legal means.
After meandering for 18 years, the case had reached the climax with the conviction in September last year that brought her down from the pedestal of chief ministership and unseated her from the Assembly.
She has earned the dubious distinction of losing the chief minister’s post twice following conviction in graft cases — in 2001 and 2014.
Jayalalithaa had been charged with accumulating Rs 66.65 crore wealth disproportionate to known sources of her income from 1991-96 in her first term as Chief Minister in the case that has seen many political and legal twists and turns.
Her close aide Sasikala Natarajan, her niece Ilavarasi and her nephew and Jayalalithaa’s disowned foster son Sudhakaran were held guilty by the trial court.
In perhaps one of the longest legal battles involving a political leader ever since the case was filed, the country has witnessed five Lok Sabha elections and Tamil Nadu three Assembly polls.
Controversy also swirled around the case after Karnataka Advocate General B V Acharya quit as Special Public Prosecutor and Bhavani Singh came in his place in the trial court.
Singh continued as SPP in the High Court but the Supreme Court recently annulled his appointment as “bad in law”, a verdict that brought back Acharya, who immediately filed a written submission seeking dismissal of the appeals by the AIADMK chief and three others.
The case was transferred to the Bangalore Special Court by the Supreme Court in 2003 on a plea by DMK, which claimed a fair trial cannot be held in Chennai as the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK government was in power.