Why did high court acquit Jayalalithaa? Her assets overshot income by merely 8.12%
The court also observed that witnesses altered their statements several times, leading to suspicion.
By Aravind S Kamal
Bangalore: The Karnataka High Court, which acquitted former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalithaa in the 18-year-old disproportionate assets case on Monday, came to the conclusion that the percentage of assets amassed by her in relation to her known sources of income was merely 8.12 percent in excess and not as claimed by the prosecution. That was sufficient for the court to acquit Jayalalithaa and three others in a case which had almost ended her political career.
In his 919-page detailed judgment on Monday, Justice CR Kumaraswamy, heading a Special Bench of the High Court which heard Jayalalithaa’s plea against the order of the Special Court, pointed out several 'loopholes' in the prosecution’s case, and in particular, the procedure followed by the officials concerned in arriving at the figure Rs 66.65 crore (assets allegedly owned by Jayalalithaa in 1996), which was grossly against the former chief minister’s known sources of income.
"In this case, the Trial Court (Special Court) has ignored the Income Tax proceedings as minimum evidentiary value. The Trial Court has not appreciated the evidence in a proper perspective," the high court noted.
The high court observed that most of the figures quoted by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) of Tamil Nadu Police were exaggerated or the assets she owned were not estimated accurately. Some of the major loans borrowed by Jayalalithaa or companies owned by her from public sector banks were not included under the income column. The agricultural, horticultural income and income from the tea estate were also not taken into consideration. The assessment of the value of the buildings she owned was not done properly too.
For instance, while the DVAC claimed that the cost of construction of buildings owned by Jayalalithaa or her firms was Rs 27.79 crore, as per records and findings of the high court, it was Rs 22.69 crore. The court also noted that there was no conclusive evidence to prove that Jayalalithaa splurged on the wedding of her foster son. While the DVAC pegged the wedding expenses at Rs 6.45 crore, the court found out that the actual expenses were Rs 28.68 lakh (paid by Jayalalithaa or her firms). The logistics, travel and accommodation of guests, and others were taken care of by her friends and party workers for which records are available.
Jayalalithaa has also shown Rs 18.17 crore loans as income, which has not been considered by the DVAC. The court also observed that witnesses altered their statements several times, leading to suspicion. The list containing such lapses is endless.
The high court came to the conclusion that Jayalalithaa's wealth (total assets) at the time the case was filed, was Rs 37,59,02,466 (Rs 37.59 crore). The income for the corresponding period was Rs 34,76,65,654 (Rs 34.76 crore). The surplus income after deducting the total income from the total assets stands at Rs 2,82,36,812 (Rs 2.82 crore). Therefore, the percentage of assets disproportionate to Jayalalithaa’s known sources of income was 8.12 percent, which is within the permissible limit.
Referring to a Supreme Court case (Krishnanda Agnihotri v/s State of Madhya Pradesh), Justice Kumaraswamy pointed out that where there is disproportionate asset to the extent of 10 percent, the accused are entitled for acquittal. In addition, a circular has also been issued by the government of Andhra Pradesh that disproportionate asset to the extent of 20 percent can also be considered as a permissible limit.
"The margin of 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the disproportionate assets has been taken as a permissible limit, taking into consideration the inflation. The percentage of disproportionate assets is 8.12%. It is relatively small. In the instant case, the disproportionate asset is less than 10% and it is within permissible limit. Therefore, the accused are entitled for acquittal," the judge said in his order.
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