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Assets case bar hangs on Jaya

Chennai, Aug. 28: A special court will on September 20 pronounce its verdict in the 17-year-old assets case against Jayalalithaa, who could lose the chief minister’s post if she is convicted and sentenced for two years or more.

John Michael D’Cunha, the judge of the court in Bangalore, reserved the verdict after the conclusion of hearings today and asked Jayalalithaa to be present next month along with the three other accused. They include Jayalalithaa’s friend Sasikala, Sasikala’s sister-in-law Ilavarasi and nephew Sudhakaran — whom the AIADMK chief had declared her “adopted son” before disowning him later.

The verdict will bring the curtains down on one of the longest legal battles involving a political leader. In the 17 years of the case, the country has witnessed five Lok Sabha elections and Tamil Nadu three Assembly polls.

The special court has seen four judges handling the case.

The Rs 66.65-crore assets case dates back to Jayalalithaa’s first term as chief minister, from 1991 to 1996. It was filed before a special court in Chennai in 1997, a year after she was routed by the DMK.

The case was transferred to the Bangalore special court by the Supreme Court in 2003 on a plea by the DMK, which claimed the trial in Chennai would be subverted as the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK had returned to power in 2001.

The charge relates to Jayalalithaa’s wealth multiplying from Rs 2.01 crore in 1991 to Rs 66.65 crore in 1996 — despite her declarations that she took a monthly salary of Re 1. The prosecution claimed that her listed properties had increased from 17 to 306.

If Jayalalithaa is held guilty and given a term of two years or more, not only could she lose her post as she would cease to be an MLA under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, she would also be disqualified from contesting for six years from the date of release.

If the punishment is lesser, the judge could suspend the term till she appeals and, though she may not be disqualified as MLA, it could become difficult for her to remain chief minister with the taint of a conviction.