Madras High Court sentences K Ponmudy to three years imprisonment
Tamil Nadu Minister for Higher Education and senior DMK leader K Ponmudy and his wife P Visalatchi were convicted by the Madras High Court on Thursday in a disproportionate assets case. The court sentenced them to three years of simple imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 10 lakh each.
The case was filed by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) in 2011, alleging that the minister and his wife had amassed Rs 1.36 crore worth of wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income between 2006 and 2011, when Ponmudy was the Minister for Mines and Minerals in the previous DMK government.
The case was transferred from Villupuram to Vellore in June 2023, and the Principal District Judge of Vellore acquitted the accused on June 28, 2023, just two days before her retirement.
High Court takes suo motu revision of the acquittal order
The Madras High Court, however, took suo motu cognisance of the acquittal order and initiated a revision petition against it. Justice N Anand Venkatesh, who heard the revision petition, found several irregularities and illegalities in the transfer of the case and the delivery of the judgment by the lower court.
The judge observed that the High Court had rejected the request of the Principal District Judge of Villupuram to conduct a special sitting for four days to complete the trial, and had also injuncted her from taking up the case until further orders. The judge also questioned the power of the administrative committee of the High Court to transfer the case from one district to another without any judicial order.
Justice Venkatesh said that the whole process was a “calculated attempt to undermine and thwart the administration of criminal justice system” and a “shocking bid to manipulate the justice system” with the blessings of judicial personages. He also criticised the Principal District Judge of Vellore for delivering a 226-page verdict within four days, after examining 172 prosecution witnesses and 381 documents, and called it a “unique feat of industry” that even constitutional courts can only dream of.
High Court finds the accused guilty of possessing disproportionate assets
The High Court, after re-appreciating the evidence and the arguments of both sides, found the accused guilty of possessing disproportionate assets to the tune of Rs 1.36 crore, which was 38.77% more than their income during the relevant period.
The court rejected the defence’s contention that the assets were acquired from agricultural income, loans, gifts, and ancestral property, and said that they failed to prove the sources of their income and expenditure. The court also noted that the accused had not filed any income tax returns during the period, and had given contradictory statements about their assets.
The court, while imposing the sentence and the fine, said that the case was a classic example of how public servants abuse their power and position to amass wealth illegally, and how they try to escape the clutches of law by resorting to various tactics. The court said that such cases erode the public confidence in the criminal justice system, and that the court has a duty to prevent miscarriage of justice by interfering where interference is imperative.
The court also directed the DVAC to initiate steps to recover the disproportionate assets from the accused, and to file a compliance report within three months.