Disgraced Indian politician begins jail term

Sasikala, who was to become chief minister of Tamil Nadu this week, gets 4-year sentence

Sasikala was found guilty of illegally amassing $14 million worth of assets.
Sasikala was found guilty of illegally amassing $14 million worth of assets.

CHENNAI • Disgraced Indian politician V.K. Sasikala handed herself over to the Bengaluru jail yesterday where she will begin a prison term for corruption, days before she was due to become chief minister of Tamil Nadu.

Sasikala set off by car from her base in the southern state's capital Chennai to Bengaluru, Karnataka, where she will serve her four-year sentence, a day after judges found her guilty of illegally amassing assets worth US$10 million (S$14 million), the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. She was also fined 100 million rupees (S$2 million).

Flanked by scores of supporters, Sasikala first paid an emotional tribute at a memorial to her long-time mentor J. Jayalalithaa, who was Tamil Nadu's chief minister and a co-accused in the case before she died last December.

Sasikala could be seen slapping her palms on Ms Jayalalithaa's memorial and holding back tears before being driven away in a sport utility vehicle in the middle of a motorcade at the start of the 350km trip.

Arriving at the jail in a big envoy escorted by police officers from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, Sasikala was accompanied by her sister-in-law Ilavarasi, who was also convicted by the top court, Indian broadcaster NDTV reported on its website.

Sasikala's convoy was met by a small crowd outside the jail, a stark contrast from 2014 when thousands of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) workers had gathered when she was last imprisoned along with Ms Jayalalithaa, according to NDTV.

Earlier in the day, India's top court rejected a plea to allow Sasikala more time before surrendering to the authorities to begin the sentence, which bars her from running for public office for a decade, according to the AFP.

The 59-year-old had been anointed as Ms Jayalalithaa's successor by the state's dominant party AIADMK. It had been expected that she would be sworn in later this week until Tuesday's bombshell verdict.

The sentence brought a dramatic halt to the former video parlour saleswoman's meteoric rise. She was on the cusp of becoming the leader of one of India's most populous and prosperous states.

Sasikala had been involved in a bitter battle with acting chief minister O. Panneerselvam, who had been trying to block her ascent.

But before Tuesday's ruling, she appeared to have won enough support to be sworn in by the state assembly this week.

She skipped Tuesday's court hearing, and instead stayed at a resort in the state capital Chennai with several dozen legislators over fears that Mr Panneerselvam's camp might try and poach them before her investiture.

An unflinching Sasikala had said on the day of the court decision that no force can separate her from AIADMK, the Times of India reported.

"No matter where I will be, I will always think about (my) party," she was quoted as saying.

Her corruption case dates back to the late 1990s, when Ms Jayalalithaa and Sasikala were accused of profiting from the chief minister's office and acquiring wealth beyond their income.

They were jointly accused of illegally amassing assets including bungalows, luxury cars, tea estates and nearly 30kg of gold worth around 660 million rupees, equivalent to around US$10 million.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'Disgraced Indian politician begins jail term'. Print Edition | Subscribe