In the end, it boiled down to arithmetic under three heads: income, expenditure and assets.
Spanning 176 pages of its 570-page judgment, the Supreme Court on Tuesday observed that the Karnataka High Court judge got his math wrong, besides incorrectly adding seven extra heads of income for Jayalalithaa, Sasikala and the two other accused in the disproportionate assets case “on an inflated and patently incorrect figure”.
The court also trashed an argument on Jayalalithaa taking a loan of Rs 1.53 crore from Sasikala.
The bench of Justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy noted that the HC judge did a basic arithmetic blunder as he calculated the loans from public sector banks availed by the four accused. HC judge C R Kumaraswamy arrived at Rs 24.17 crore after taking into account 10 items of loans, but the top court said that the correct sum was only Rs 10.67 crore.
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Besides finding fault with including the entire sum of loans in the final calculation, the bench said that the HC “wrongly totalled the amounts to inflate (the) figure to Rs 24,17,31,274 which in fact ought to have been Rs 10,67,31,224 on a correct arithmetic”.
This difference of approximately Rs 13.5 crore had come to the benefit of the accused, and had the HC added this amount to the total disproportionate assets of the accused, it worked out to be Rs 16.34 crore and not Rs 2.82 crore – as per the HC judgment.
Arriving at Rs 2.82 crore as disproportionate assets, the HC judge had said that it was only 8.12 per cent of the total income of the accused. But adding Rs 16.34 crore could take up their liability to 76 per cent, the top court observed.
The SC bench dismissed the HC’s view on adding Rs 4 crore as income of Jaya Publications on account of a deposit scheme, pointing out that the trial court had correctly discarded it for want of verifiable evidence and after noticing that Income Tax returns to show this as income was filed after the chargesheet was filed.
An argument on receiving Rs 1.5 core as birthday gift, and an income of Rs 52.5 lakh from a grape garden, was also rejected by the SC. The bench said that there was no legal reasoning given by the HC to accept their inclusion in Jayalalithaa’s total income.
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The court said that receiving gifts by a public servant was “visibly illegal and forbidden by law” under the Indian Penal Code.
The SC supported the trial court’s findings against Sasikala, her sister-in-law Ilavarasi, and Sasikala’s nephew V N Sudhakaran, who had sought an addition of Rs 26.5 crore as their income instead of Rs 6.7 crore, as stipulated by the trial judge.
Under the head ‘assets’, the bench noted that the major difference in calculation between the trial court and the HC was on account of factoring in immovable properties and adding the new construction of buildings. The figure arrived by HC was less than Rs 30 crore than what the trial court had estimated as assets of the accused.
According to the bench, the HC judge committed another arithmetical mistake as he missed out on four items in the final calculation and arrived at a wrong figure. “The quantification of the disproportionate assets is also visibly wrong…it (HC) having accepted the value of assets to be Rs 66,44,73,573, the remainder would still value at Rs 43,75,38,688 even if there is a reduction in value of assets by Rs 22,69,34,885,” the bench said.
Under the head ‘expenditure’, the SC noted that of Rs 11 crore cited as expenditure, according to the prosecution, Rs 6.45 crore was spent on the wedding of Sudhakaran — Jayalalithaa’s foster son who she later disowned. While the trial court had computed it at Rs 3 crore, HC had scaled down the wedding expenditure to Rs 28.68 lakh.
The bench rejected the HC’s finding, saying: “On an overall consideration of evidence adduced by the parties, we are inclined to hold that the computation of the expenditure incurred by A1 (Jayalalithaa) in the marriage as made by the High Court is unacceptable in the teeth of the materials on record to the contrary.”
The apex court thus held: “The percentage of disproportionate assets as 8.12% as computed by the High Court is based on completely wrong reading of the evidence on record compounded by incorrect arithmetical calculations.”
The bench also said that the HC judge’s understanding of the Supreme Court’s 1977 judgment in Krishnanand Agnihotri Vs the State of Madhya Pradesh case was wrong. The HC judge had relied on this judgment to acquit Jayalalithaa and others on the reasoning that when the disproportionate asset is less than 10 per cent of the accountable income, the accused are entitled to acquittal.
“The judgment does not advance any proposition that in order to adjudge the disproportionateness of the assets in comparison of the income of a public servant, the margin of 10% is a permissible index of uniform application,” the bench said.
It added that the 1977 verdict did not acknowledge as a determinant to decide as to whether a public servant charged under the Prevention of Corruption Act can be held guilty of a criminal misconduct on the benchmark of 10 per cent.