Sept. 27: Jayalalithaa was today unseated as Tamil Nadu chief minister and faced a possible 10-year bar on contesting elections as a Bangalore court sent her to jail with a Rs 100-crore fine for amassing unexplained wealth two decades ago.
A lawyer unconnected with the case, who was in the courtroom inside a jail complex, said Jayalalithaa, 66, felt giddy and ill as judge John Michael D’Cunha passed the verdict and was allowed to step out briefly for fresh air.
Her four-year sentence means the AIADMK leader, the first serving chief minister to be convicted of corruption, must spend at least two days in her Bangalore prison cell as inmate No. 7402 before bail becomes a possibility.
|THE FLAG GOES|
Jayalalithaa arrives at the court in Bangalore. As soon as she was convicted, the flag was taken off. (PTI)
Bail from the trial court was ruled out because the sentence was longer than three years. The high court next sits on Monday, giving Jayalalithaa a two-day window before it closes for the Dussehra holidays till October 5.
Her bigger worry will be the blow to her political career, and not just because conviction has automatically disqualified her as a lawmaker under a July 2013 Supreme Court ruling and ejected her as chief minister.
If she fails to secure a high court acquittal in the coming months, she will not just have to spend four years in jail but face a further six-year ban on voting or contesting elections — by when she will be 76.
As news of her conviction seeped out, an alert police officer was seen removing the national flag from Jayalalithaa’s Toyota, parked inside the court complex, in symbolic recognition of her ouster as chief minister.
Her party will meet tomorrow to choose a successor. The likeliest pick is finance minister O. Panneerselvam, a loyalist who had filled in for Jayalalithaa in 2001 too when the apex court unseated her because of a prior conviction over a corrupt land deal. Jayalalithaa had returned to her post after a few months, courtesy a high court acquittal.
Jail sources in Bangalore said Jayalalithaa had been lodged alone in a cell that has a ceiling fan and given a blanket, the authorities having rejected her demand for hospital admission after the mandatory medical check-up.
It’s not clear how Jayalalithaa will pay the Rs 100-crore fine: in her last election affidavit in 2011, she had declared assets worth just over Rs 50 crore.
The staggering fine comes on a week the Supreme Court slapped a compensation levy on companies while cancelling their coal block licences. The companies have been asked to pay Rs 295 for every tonne of coal they had mined. Some estimates put the cumulative blow to the companies at Rs 10,400 crore.
The 17-year-old case against Jaya related to Rs 66.65-crore worth of unaccounted wealth accumulated during her first term as chief minister between 1991 and 1996. She then drew a monthly salary of Re 1 and had no other regular source of income.
Judge D’Cunha handed a four-year term and a Rs 10-crore fine to each of her three co-conspirators: friend Sasikala and Sasikala’s sister-in-law Ilavarasi and nephew V.N. Sudhakaran, who happens to be Jayalalithaa’s estranged foster son.
Jayalalithaa has been convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act and two Indian Penal Code sections relating to abetment and criminal conspiracy.
The case, filed in Chennai in 1997, was shifted to Bangalore on a plea from Jayalalithaa’s political opponent DMK, which feared subversion after 72 witnesses turned hostile.
The trial was held at a court in central Bangalore but the verdict was delivered in the Gandhi Bhavan courthouse inside the Parappana Agrahara jail complex off the Bangalore-Hosur Road, where Jayalalithaa is now lodged. The venue shift came on an appeal from Jayalalithaa, who cited her Z-plus security.
She had made just one court appearance during the trial, for four days in 2011, after one of the 14 judges who heard the case put his foot down.
Our India judicial system is too slow.
It has taken 18 years since the case was filed and 23 years since the theft had occurred.
The 100 crore fine imposed on her is too meagre.
If you consider the 14 % interest on 66 crores charged by banks, the fine should have been 528 crores