The high court in the southern Indian state of Karnataka acquitted a former chief minister of the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalithaa, in a case of disproportionate assets on Monday.
Jayalalithaa, the leader of the local party AIADMK, had appealed against her September conviction by a lower court, which found her guilty of amassing unaccounted wealth worth $10 million between 1991 and 1996 when she was the state's leader. Following last year's ruling, Jayalalithaa was forced to step down from her post as the state's chief minister.
The lower court had convicted four people in the case -- Jayalalithaa and her three aides -- and ordered them jail terms of four years each. Jayalalithaa was also fined 1 billion rupees ($16 million) while her aides -- Sasikala, V.N. Sudhakaran and Ilavarasi -- were ordered to pay 100 million rupees ($1.6 million) each. The three were also acquitted on Monday by the higher court, which reportedly took 11 seconds to announce the verdict.
In October, Jayalalithaa had approached India's Supreme Court, which extended her bail until April. The apex court had then ordered for the formation of a special bench to hear her appeal. She had reportedly said that the investigation into the case was led by an opposition party, DMK, which had overestimated her assets.
"It will be a big blow to all opposition parties," C. Lakshmanan, a professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, said, according to local newspaper Hindustan Times, adding: "It will be a nightmare for all of them. The AIADMK might have a cakewalk in the 2016 elections. The BJP may not be able to even imagine a hold in Tamil Nadu in their lifetime unless they completely surrender to Amma (Jayalalithaa as referred to by the locals)."
Subramanian Swamy, one of the two main petitioners in the case, said he was shocked by the acquittal, the Times of India reported. “I will appeal against the verdict." The report added that she may be sworn in as Tamil Nadu’s leader again on May 17 and may take back her post from her aide and the state's interim leader, O. Panneerselvam.
The acquittal comes as Tamil Nadu is set to go to polls in 2016. "There are only 9 to 10 months to go for elections. The state will go into election mode. Madam will take charge of all election and campaign activities,” Rabi Bernard, a spokesman for AIADMK, said, according to the Hindustan Times.