In a significant development, the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) had appealed against the acquittal, alleging that Ponmudi had accumulated assets exceeding his known sources of income during his tenure as Minister for Mines and Minerals in the DMK government from 2006 to 2011.
Justice G Jayachandran, after hearing the appeal, declared that Ponmudi had amassed assets exceeding his known sources of income by 64.9 per cent. The court is set to pronounce the sentence on December 21, instructing Ponmudi and his wife to appear before the court on that day.
The origins of the case can be traced back to the AIADMK regime, which initiated an investigation against Ponmudi and his wife. In 2016, a special court under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) acquitted Ponmudi and his wife, citing the prosecution’s failure to establish charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Dissatisfied with the verdict, the DVAC filed an appeal in 2017, alleging that the DMK leader had amassed Rs 1.36 crore in assets disproportionate to his known sources of income.
In a twist to the proceedings, Justice Anand Venkatesh, utilising his suo motu revision powers, questioned the validity of transferring the case against Ponmudi and others. In an order issued on August 10, 2023, Justice Venkatesh expressed concerns about the expeditious manner in which the case was transferred from Villupuram District Court to Vellore District Court. The order highlighted the rapid pace at which the case was heard, emphasising the examination of voluminous documents and evidence.
Justice Venkatesh issued a strongly-worded order, criticising the transfer of the case and stating, “It is evident that when a glaring illegality by a criminal court leads to a significant miscarriage of justice, it becomes the constitutional duty of the High Court to rectify the illegality and uphold the public’s trust in the criminal justice system.”
He further noted that the transfer of the case and subsequent trial and judgement by the Principal District Judge in Vellore were “entirely unlawful and devoid of legal validity,” revealing an “alarming and deliberate effort to manipulate and undermine the criminal justice system.”
In response to the recent judgement, a BJP leader in Tamil Nadu commented, “One DMK Minister without a portfolio is already in prison on charges of corruption, and the Higher Education Minister of TN, Ponmudi, is today convicted by the Madras High Court on corruption charges. Incidentally, the I.N.D.I. Alliance, the coming together of corrupt & dynasts, is meeting today and the TN CM is attending the meeting while people in South TN are battling for their lives.”
An edifice built over a false ideology, made corruption its way of life & suppressed voices of dissent through muscle power is falling like a House of Cards today.
One DMK Minister without portfolio is already in Prison on charges of Corruption & the Higher Education Minister…
— K.Annamalai (@annamalai_k) December 19, 2023
Justice Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court has taken a suo motu initiative, questioning the swift acquittal of DMK Minister K Ponmudi in a disproportionate assets (DA) case. The High Court’s scrutiny has led to a series of developments, including an appeal to the Supreme Court, a refusal to interfere by the apex court, and requests for expunging remarks by a former Principal District Judge involved in the case.
Justice Venkatesh invoked his powers under Section 397 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.PC) and initiated a criminal revision case on his own. In his scathing remarks, he questioned the expedited proceedings that led to Ponmudi’s acquittal. Notably, the Principal District Judge (PDJ) of Vellore, who delivered the acquittal judgment, retired shortly after.
The judge raised concerns about the remarkable speed with which the trial took place. He noted that while a defense witness was quickly examined on June 6, written submissions were made by the accused on June 23, and within four days, the PDJ, Vellore, managed to marshal the evidence of 172 prosecution witnesses and 381 documents. Subsequently, a 226-page judgment acquitting all the accused was delivered. The judge retired just two days after the verdict.
Ponmudi, in response to the suo motu initiative, appealed to the Supreme Court to stay the proceedings. However, the Supreme Court refused to interfere with the Madras High Court’s order, praising Justice Anand Venkatesh for taking notice of the matter.
The apex court acknowledged Justice Venkatesh’s actions, stating, “Thank God, we have judges like Justice Anand. Look at the conduct.” The bench, headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, emphasized the need for judicial orders in transferring trials between district judges, challenging the administrative power of the Chief Justice.
Meanwhile, N Vasanthaleela, a former Principal District Judge who acquitted Ponmudi and his wife in the DA case, has approached the Madras High Court to expunge remarks made against her during the suo motu revision. In her communication to the court, she termed the comments “unjustified, unwarranted, and derogatory,” claiming they had tarnished her reputation.
Vasanthaleela explained that the DA case had already seen 90% of its trial completed at the Villupuram Principal District Court before being moved to Vellore. She highlighted that only the remaining 10% of the trial proceedings took place under her supervision, following the High Court’s directive for a swift conclusion in 2022. Additionally, she clarified that she spent ten days dictating the verdict after the conclusion of oral arguments on June 19, 2023, and not within four days after the submission of written arguments, as indicated in the remarks.
Justice Venkatesh has been actively involved in the revision of trial court orders acquitting several prominent figures, including DMK ministers Thangam Thennarsu, KKSSR Ramachandran, I Periyasamy, former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, and former AIADMK minister B Valarmathi. The unfolding legal drama adds another layer to the complex intersection of politics and the judicial system in Tamil Nadu.
The court’s decision adds another layer to the ongoing legal battles surrounding DMK ministers, raising questions about the integrity of the criminal justice system and the political implications of such cases in Tamil Nadu.