CHENNAI: FEB 14,
In the first week of February of 2000, five big suitcases were brought from the Reserve Bank of India (Chennai) to the Special Court-I, then housed at the Chennai Collectorate building. Guarded by a heavy posse of police personnel, these suitcases contained glittering gold and diamond jewellery belonging to AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa, her close friend Sasikala and disowned foster son V.N. Sudhakaran. The presiding judge S. Sambandham had ordered the prosecution to produce the jewels, all seized from Jayalalithaa’s Veda Nilayam bungalow in Poes Garden and from Sudhakaran’s house, so that an inventory could be made and marked as prosecution exhibits. There was palpable excitement in the court hall with the lawyers, staff, journalists and even the policemen marvelling at each ornament that was taken out of the suitcase one by one. The judge examined them and handed it over to the staff, who showed it to the public prosecutor and defence lawyers before putting it back in the suitcase.
Eyes popped when a waist belt (odiyanam), worn by Jayalalithaa and Sasikala in the famous photograph in which they were bedecked in similar jewellery and sarees, was produced. [The prosecution said another odiyanam was never found during the raids]. The waist belt, weighing 1,044 gm was bedecked with 2,389 diamonds, 18 emeralds and 9 rubies. When a diamond-studded gold belt, which was worn by Sudhakaran during his infamous mega wedding in 1995, was taken out, an excited journalist too held it in his hand before passing it on to the court staff. Curiously, a male typist got carried away and put a ‘kaasumalai’ weighing 487.4 gm around his neck for a while before handing it over to others. The seriousness of his act dawned on him much later. At the end of the day’s proceedings, the typist met journalists and pleaded with them not to report the incident as the judge would issue a memo to him. The journalists obliged.
But by a quirk of fate one week later he was served a memo after a Tamil daily carried a translated version of a report published in the New York Times by a foreign journalist, who mentioned this incident based on inputs provided by a court reporter.
Police personnel, who had arrived to provide security for the jewels, were forced to stay back at the court premises for three full days as the evaluation of the jewellery simply dragged on. The five suitcases are still with the Reserve Bank of India. They were opened again in January 2014 when a team from the Bengaluru Special Court, where the trial was transferred, came to assess the value of the jewellery.
Another interesting episode was witnessed when a luxury bus acquired by Jayalalithaa was brought to the court. The bus had a bathroom with shower, telephone, small conference table with seats and television, a novelty back then, before the arrival of caravans. When the judge inspected the bus, court staff and journalists accompanied him and were awestruck by the comfort it offered inside.
The prosecution had summoned a Sikh gentleman, who owned a company in Mumbai, that supplied such modified buses, to depose in the court. The owner said he had delivered similar buses to actor Sridevi and a few other celebrities. He told the court that he had personally delivered the bus at Poes Garden. When the prosecutor asked him if he had given it to Jayalalithaa, he replied, “No. Another madam [Sasikala] was there.”
During cross-examination, defence lawyer Vridhachala Reddiar kept on posing questions and proceedings dragged till evening. The bus service owner was unable to take his evening flight and the prosecution had to make fresh arrangements for his return journey.
It was also during this trial, that music composer Gangai Amaran broke down while narrating how he was forced to sell his land in Payanur to Sasikala under duress.