Madras HC reopens decade-old case of corruption against former CM Panneerselvam

AIADMK leader O Panneerselvam.

Madras HC reopens decade-old case of corruption against former CM Panneerselvam

Order notes propensity of state govts to misuse Vigilance for political cause

The Madras High Court has opted to suo motu reopen a corruption case against O Panneerselvam, the former Tamil Nadu chief minister and expelled AIADMK leader, which had ended in acquittal a decade ago.

The order comes on the heels of the court’s move to revisit three similar acquittal cases involving top DMK ministers K Ponmudi, Thangam Thennarasu, and K K S S R Ramachandran.

Highlighting the principle that “a crime never dies,” Justice N Anand Venkatesh said in his order, “The court is not oblivious of the fact that 10 years have rolled by since the order of the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), Sivagangai.”

“The facts catalogued in paragraph 25 are shocking and disturbing,” the HC order said, referring to the acquittal order of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Sivaganga, in December 2012. “They disclose a grave illegality at every stage, which shows a well-orchestrated plan. This is a case where a political personage has manoeuvred DVAC [Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption], state government and Court to ensure that trial against him was derailed.”

The case, involving Panneerselvam — or OPS, as he is called — and his family members, “reveal a shocking tale of how the criminal justice system was subverted by the collective effort of all concerned to ensure that the accused were released from the clutches of the law,” Justice Venkatesh noted in his order on Thursday.

The case dates back to Panneerselvam’s tenure as revenue minister (2001-2006) and chief minister (2001-2002). Following a preliminary inquiry by DVAC, a case was registered under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, against OPS in 2006, when DMK came to power.

N Kulothunga Pandian, Deputy Superintendent of Police, DVAC, Madurai, investigated the case, and the case documents show 272 witnesses were examined and 235 documents were collected.

The then Assembly Speaker, R Avudiappan, granted prosecution sanction in the case in 2009, as Panneerselvam was an MLA. A final report, under CrPC Section 173(2), was filed before the CJM (Special Court) in Theni and the charges were about disproportionate assets amounting to 374% of known sources of income.

In 2011, a special court in Madurai was constituted, effectively removing the CJM, Theni, from the case, incidentally after AIADMK returned to power and Panneerselvam became the state finance minister. But despite creation of a special court in Madurai, the case records remain “detained” at Theni court.

In an unusual move, the accused filed a petition for further investigation, a petition allowed by the Theni CJM.

Thursday’s HC order said the reasons cited by Theni court for further investigation “defy several rudimentary principles that even a novice in criminal law would not overlook”.

The HC order also noted that that the modus operandi is “now all too obvious”.  It said, “At the centre of the plot is the DVAC. When a political party comes to power in Tamil Nadu, DVAC swoops down on the opposition and clamps down on cases of corruption. However, no prosecution for corruption ends in five years, which is the lifespan of an elected government…. Invariably, opposition is voted back to power and DVAC, like puppets in Muppets show, will have to perform a different tune in tandem with its political masters. The strategy is to get DVAC to do a further investigation, the sole objective of which is to further cause of the accused.”

The court ordered notices to Panneerselvam, DVAC, and posted for hearing on September 27.

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