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Supreme Court orders 4-month criminal trial of TN chief Jayalalitha over income tax returns [read judgment]

The Supreme Court has ordered prosecution of Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha for not filing income tax (IT) returns between 1991 and 1994 for the company which she co-owned at the time.

Jayalalitha and the company’s other co-owner had appealed to the apex court for discharge from the criminal proceedings for tax evasion which the IT department had launched against them in 1996 and 1997. The appellants had relied on Section 276CC of the IT Act to say that there was no offence committed by them as there was no income and consequently no tax evasion. [Order (PDF 136kB)]

Justices KS Radhakrishnan and AK Sikri passed the judgment today, upholding the earlier high court order and ordering a criminal court to complete its trial within four months:

Court in a prosecution of offence, like Section 276CC has to presume the existence of mens rea and it is for the accused to prove the contrary and that too beyond reasonable doubt. Resultantly, the appellants have to prove the circumstances which prevented them from filing the returns as per Section 139(1) or in response to notices under Sections 142 and 148 of the Act.

If convicted, Jayalalitha will be jailed for at least three months and at most three years, with a fine. Convicted Congress leader Rashid Masood was the first member of parliament (MPs) to be disqualified from political office under last year’s new Lily Thomas law for convicted MPs, while convicted MPs Lalu Yadav and Jagdish Sharma were next in line.

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