The Supreme Court on Thursday will hear Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s plea in connection with a disproportionate assets case filed against her for misusing her office to amass properties worth Rs 66.65 crores between 1991 and 1996. The Karnataka Government had filed an appeal in the apex court, challenging the high court’s order to acquit Jayalalithaa in the case. The state government has alleged she had an active role in six firms that helped her to accumulate huge assets. Earlier, the apex court had said that acquiring assets “per se” is not a crime unless the sources are found to be illegal.
The assets included farm houses and bungalows in Chennai, agricultural land in Tamil Nadu, a farm house in Hyderabad, a tea estate in the Nilgiris, valuable jewellery, industrial sheds, cash deposits and investments in banks and a fleet of luxury cars. A raid on her Poes garden residence in 1997 in Chennai recovered 800 kilograms of silver, 28 kilograms of gold, 750 pairs of shoes, 10,500 sarees, 91 watches and other valuables. The valuables were kept in a vault in Reserve Bank of India in Chennai. Opposition parties petitioned the court to take the control of the assets, but Special Judge John Michael Cunha who inspected the assets on January 7, 2014, ordered the assets to be transferred to Bangalore after the trial had gone on for 18 years.
A judgement was pronounced on September 27, 2014 in the Special Court which convicted all four accused namely Jayalalithaa, Sasikala Natarajan, Ilavarasi and V.N. Sudhakaran and sentenced all to four years simple imprisonment. Jayalalithaa was fined Rs.100 crores, while the other three were fined Rs.10 crores each. The case had political implications as it was the first case where a ruling chief minister had to step down on account of a court sentence. She was convicted for the third time overall and was forced to step down from the chief minister’s office for the second time. She was also the seventh politician and the first MLA from the state and third overall to be disqualified after the Supreme Court judgement in July 2013 on the Representation of People’s Act that prevents convicted politicians from holding office.
In May 2015, Justice CR Kumaraswamy of the Karnataka High Court overturned the trial court’s verdict and acquitted Jayalalithaa and others of all charges. This paved the way for Jayalalithaa’s return to power as chief minister of Tamil Nadu on May 23, 2015.