An Indian court on Saturday sentenced Jayalalithaa Jayaram, a former film star who became one of the country's most colourful and controversial politicians, to four years in jail and fined Rs1 billion in a corruption case that has run for nearly two decades.
The chief minister of the prosperous southern state of Tamil Nadu was charged with amassing illegal wealth in 1997, when police seized assets including 28 kilogrammes of gold, 750 pairs of shoes and more than 10,000 saris in a raid on her home.
Prosecutors said her assets, which reportedly included two 1,000-acre estates in the lush tropical state she ran, were vastly disproportionate to her earnings during her first term as chief minister, which ran from 1991 to 1996.
Jayalalithaa was found guilty of "amassing wealth disproportionate to known sources of her income," prosecutor G. Bhavani Singh told reporters outside the makeshift court in the southern city of Bangalore after the verdict was issued.
The judge handed down a fine and a four-year jail sentence, but it was not clear whether Jayalalithaa, who runs the third largest party in India's national parliament, would be taken into custody immediately.
Three close associates of Jayalalithaa were also found guilty of corruption and sentenced to four years in jail, Singh said.
The ruling means she will be automatically disqualified from parliament in accordance with a Supreme Court order last year that state and national lawmakers should be ejected from office if sentenced to more than three years in jail.
Hundreds of party loyalists had come to Bangalore to show support for their leader, and many were in tears as the news emerged from the closed court session.
"She will come out victorious, she will come out stronger," one supporter told NDTV news channel.
The 66-year-old politician enjoys huge popularity in Tamil Nadu, India's southern manufacturing hub, where she is known to her fans simply as "Amma" (Mother).
Her AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) party emerged as the third biggest force in the national parliament after winning 37 of the 39 parliamentary seats in the state in this year's general election.
Nevertheless, she is regarded as an ally of the prime minister, and her conviction will come as a blow to the government.
Police were on high alert for protests after Saturday's verdict.
All four defendants were present when the judge delivered the verdict in a makeshift courtroom set up at the main jail in Bangalore, India's southern technology hub.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2014.