AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala suffered a legal setback after the Madras high court on Wednesday refused to discharge her from three cases filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in 1995 and 1996 on charges of violating the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA).
The cases were related to payments made to foreign firms in US and Singapore dollars for hiring uplink facilities for J Jay TV, the predecessor to Jaya TV. The ED had probed charges against the now defunct JJ TV in the 1990s when Sasikala was its chairperson and director.
Justice G Chockalingam also allowed a criminal revision petition by the ED and set aside an order passed by a Chennai magistrate on May 18, 2015, that discharged the AIADMK leader from a fourth case that had been filed against her in 2001.
The Madurai bench set aside her discharge in the Rs 3 crore deposit case, which means she will now have to stand trial.
The cases date back to late chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s first term in power. Sasikala, who was the late CM’s confidante, was arrested on June 20, 1996, for FERA violations, shortly after Jayalalithaa was completely defeated in the assembly elections. She spent 11 months in jail before she was granted bail.
The case is related to Bharani Beach Resorts, where Sasikala was charged with transferring Rs 3 crore (or $19 lakh) to the non-resident non-repatriable account of her friend, Susheela. The amount was allegedly sent back to Sasikala, who then purchased the uplink facilities.
The ED had stated that the illegal transactions related to J Jay TV were revealed during a search conducted at the Chennai office of the television channel on September 21, 1995.
Officials reportedly recovered several incriminating documents including a fax message sent on December 15, 1994, by V Bhaskaran, managing director of the channel, to his aunt Sasikala.
The message reportedly spoke about a deal having been struck with an American company for hiring a transponder and a company based in the Philippines for uplink facilities at a cost of $10 lakh and $3.6 lakh, respectively.
It also stated that only 50% of the amount should be paid on record as per the norms of those companies and that was corroborated by agreements seized by the ED confirming payment of $5 lakh and $1.8 lakh to those two companies.
The second complaint filed against Sasikala was related to purchase of goods for the amount of Singapore $1.36 lakh for the television channel, again in alleged violation of the provisions of the FERA.
The third complaint was filed after ED officials flew to Malaysia and Singapore for an inquiry in November 1996, and interrogated retired civil servant K Ramachandran. He allegedly told the officials about payments made through him in Singapore dollars to a company in Moscow for hiring transponders and uplink facilities for J Jay TV.
In May 2015, the Economic Offences Court discharged Sasikala from the deposits case stating that the ED had no evidence to prosecute her. The ED, however, then challenged her discharge in the case.
Justice Chockalingam also reversed orders discharging Sasikala’s nephew, former MP TTV Dhinakaran, from two similar charges of FERA violations.
The legal decision comes as a shock for the ruling AIADMK, even as they are making arrangements for Sasikala to become the next chief minister.