Acquiring assets not crime unless source illegal, says SC
Acquiring assets “per se” is not a crime unless the sources are found to be illegal, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said while Karnataka maintained that the High Court order acquitting Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in the assets case is “perverse”.
In an unusual hearing during summer break, a vacation bench comprising Justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy said that the disproportionate assets “per se is not a crime” and “it’s a crime only if source of money is found to be illegal”.
The apex court, which generally takes up urgent matters during the vacation, had decided to hear the final arguments in the high-profile case after counsel for both sides had agreed to appear during this period.
The court, during the hearing, outlined the three options available to it and said it may either uphold the High court verdict or reverse it or re-appreciate the entire evidence which may lead to fresh re-trial or it can also remand the matter to the High court for fresh consideration.
The observation came when senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for Karnataka, described the High Court judgment as “perverse beyond imagination”, devoid of reasoning and based on “conjectures and surmises”.
The bench, hearing appeals filed by Karnataka government and DMK leader K Anbazhagan against the AIADMK leader who has come back to the power in the state last month, asked the state about the evidence to establish that money, allegedly circulated among various accused, belonged to the Chief Minister.
It also asked about the evidence showing that the sources of the money in question was illegal.
Mr. Dave, assailing the verdict, said, “The judgement of the High Court reflects violent miscarriage of justice and it is perverse beyond imagination. It is based on mere surmises and conjectures and none of the findings are based on evidence.”
He also assailed the observation made by the High Court that there was a culture of giving gifts in Tamil Nadu.
“There is no need for such an observation. Every politician, who is involved in corruption cases, will then go scot free. This court has been saying that there was a need to cleanse the system and the corruption should be dealt with iron hands,” the senior lawyer said.
The approach of the High Court defied Parliamentary laws on corruption. The appellate courts cannot substitute the logical conclusions of trial courts without dealing with them, he said.
“Not a word in the judgement (of the High Court) says that the trial court judgement is perverse and not based on evidence,” he said, adding that there were “glaring mistakes” in the verdict which cannot be “sustained in the eyes of law”.
Mr. Dave also said that the apex court, since 1954, has been telling high courts to give “detailed and reasoned” verdicts.
“The Supreme Court has several times told the high courts to consider the entire gamut of a matter if it is converting convictions into acquittals,” he said.
During the hearing, the bench dealt with the aspect as to whether it can “re-appreciate” the evidence brought before the trial court, the observation was opposed by Mr. Dave.
“As per the principle laid down, the appellate court, instead of remanding the case to trial court for re-trial, can re-appreciate the evidence on some issues if materials are available before it and if the judgement of the high court is found to be perverse,” the court said.
Mr. Dave on Wednesday concluded arguments, dealing with the roles of four accused also including Ms. Jayalalithaa’s close aide Sasikala and her two relatives, V N Sudhakaran and Elavarasi, on behalf of state government.
Now another senior advocate Siddharth Luthra would argue on behalf of Karnataka on June 7 to deal with the alleged roles of some firms including Indo Doha Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals in the case.
The Karnataka government is arguing its appeal in the case as the trial was shifted from Tamil Nadu and a Bangalore court had convicted the accused including Jayalalithaa who later succeeded in her challenge before the High Court there.
Besides Ms. Jayalalithaa, others acquitted by the High Court were her close aide Sasikala and her two relatives, V N Sudhakaran and Elavarasi.
On July 27, last year the apex court had issued notices on Karnataka government’s appeal seeking stay of the high court judgement to Ms. Jayalalithaa, Ms. Sasikala and her relatives V N Sudhakaran and Elavarasi, asking them to file their replies within eight weeks.
The Karnataka HC had on May 11, 2015 ruled that AIADMK supremo’s conviction by special court suffered from infirmity and was not sustainable in law, clearing decks for her return as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister.
The special court had in 2014 held Ms. Jayalalithaa guilty of corruption and sentenced her to four years imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 100 crore. Ms. Jayalalithaa and three others were accused of allegedly amassing disproportionate asserts to the tune of Rs. 66.65.crores during her first term as Chief Minister from 1991 to 1996.
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