May 11, 2015 / 7:54 AM / in 2 years

Indian court acquits southern politician Jayalalithaa in graft case

Lawyers from the Karnataka High Court hold a portrait of Jayalalithaa Jayaram, former chief minister of Tamil Nadu state and chief of her AIADMK party, during celebrations outside a court in Bengaluru, India, May 11, 2015. REUTERS/Abhishek N. Chinnappa

Chennai (Reuters) - An Indian court on Monday overturned the graft conviction of powerful politician and former movie star Jayalalithaa Jayaram, setting the stage for her return to power in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Celebrations erupted outside Jayalalithaa’s party office in the state capital of Chennai, with supporters dancing, distributing sweets and garlanding pictures of their leader.

“We welcome our leader back,” said party spokesman Rabi Bernard. “The court order proves that she is an honest leader. Soon she will be our chief minister.”

Jayalalithaa, a former chief minister of Tamil Nadu and chief of her AIADMK party, was jailed last year for holding 530 million rupees ($8.7 million) in unaccounted cash and property. She stepped down following the verdict by a trial court, appointing a loyalist supporter to the post.

But on Monday, a Karnataka high court scrapped the disproportionate assets case against her. The reason for throwing out the conviction was not immediately clear from the judge’s statement, which television channels described as being ten seconds long.

With her conviction set aside, Jayalalithaa can run for election when the state picks a new legislature next year.

She also wields influence in national politics, with her party holding the third largest number of seats in the lower house of parliament.

The portly, fair-skinned Jayalalithaa has a huge fan following and has endeared herself to millions of voters by distributing free laptops, kitchen grinders and fans.

Reporting by Sandhya Ravishankar; Writing by Rupam Jain Nair Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Clarence Fernandez

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