Acquittal in assets case: SC refuses to entertain plea challenging revision case against Tami Nadu Minister Ponmudy

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to interfere with the Madras High Court order issuing notice to DMK minister K Ponmudy and his wife on a criminal revision case initiated by it following their acquittal in a disproportionate wealth case by a Vellore trial court.

A bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud praised Tamil Nadu High Court Judge Justice N Anand Venkatesh for taking suo motu notice of the matter.

“Thank God, we have judges like Justice Anand. Look at the conduct. The Chief Justice transfers the trial from one district to another. Where is the power of the Chief Justice to transfer the trial from one district judge to another on the administrative side? It has to be judicial order.The HC single judge is right in examining this,” the bench, also comprising Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, said.

The top court said the single judge is still seized of the matter and only notices have been issued to the parties and, therefore, it was not inclined to entertain the pleas at this stage.

The top court refused to entertain arguments from senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the accused, and senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the state, and said all arguments can be advanced before a single judge, who has issued notice to the accused and public prosecutor on the acquittal of the minister and his wife.

The Madras High Court on August 10 had ordered notice to Ponmudy and his wife.

Invoking his powers under section 397 Cr.PC, Justice Venkatesh had initiated the criminal revision case on his own and also ordered notice to the Tamil Nadu government and posted further hearing of the case to September 7, 2023.

The prosecution (DVAC) case was that Ponmudy had amassed wealth to the tune of Rs 1.4 crore in his name and that of his wife and friends, disproportionate to his known sources of income when he was a minister between 1996 and 2001.

Pointing out at the trial in the case, the judge had said by June 6, 2023, a case which had thus far been lingering on for years started to move with great alacrity.

“By the first week of June 2023, the celestial stars of the accused appeared to be lining up perfectly, with the blessings of judicial personages, including the Principal District Judge, Vellore, who was set to demit office on June 30, 2023.

“A defence witness quickly examined on side of the defense on June 6. On June 23, written submissions were made on the side of the accused and on June 28, 2023, i.e., within four days, the PDJ, Vellore marshalled the evidence of 172 prosecution witnesses and 381 documents and managed (or rather stage-managed) to deliver a 226-page judgment acquitting all the accused,” the judge had said.

This “unique feat” of industry on the part of the PDJ, Vellore can find few parallels, and it may well be said is a feat that even judicial mortals in constitutional courts can only dream of. Two days, thereafter, on June 30, 2023, the PDJ, Vellore retired and cheerfully rode off into the sunset, the judge added.

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Narrating the sequence of events and the procedure followed to transfer the case from Villupuram to Vellore, the judge said it reveals a shocking and calculated attempt to manipulate and subvert the criminal justice system.

“Having examined the record, I find there is not even a speck of legality on anything that has been done on and from June 7, 2003, when the high court administration injuncted the Principal District Judge, Villupuram from proceeding with the case. The dubious and curious process of transfer followed by the trial and judgment of the Principal District Judge, Vellore are wholly illegal and are nullities in the eye of law.”

“These illegalities having come to my notice, I have decided to exercise my powers under sections 397 and 401 Cr. P.C and Article 227 of the Constitution suo motu as I find there is a calculated attempt to undermine and thwart the administration of criminal justice”, the judge added.

Ponmudy was recently acquitted in a land grab case by a city court here. He is also under the radar of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a money laundering case linked to alleged illegal sand mining.

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