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Salman Khan, one of India’s most bankable stars, was convicted by a Mumbai court Wednesday over a fatal 2002 drunk driving hit-and-run case. The Bollywood star was sentenced to five years in prison.
Khan, 49, was found guilty of culpable homicide after killing a homeless man and injuring four others after the Toyota Land Cruiser he was driving went out of control and ran over the sleeping men. Upon receiving his sentence, the actor was immediately taken into custody.
News channels went into a frenzy as Khan arrived at the Mumbai sessions court, which was followed by non-stop live coverage after the verdict was anounced.
At the time of the incident in 2002, the actor said he was not at the wheel though the prosecution insisted that a drunk Khan was driving the car. The high profile case took a surprise turn when Khan’s driver Ashok Singh came to the court after 12 years and deposed that he was driving when the accident occurred. Singh said the car’s front left tyre burst, making steering and braking difficult leading to the car swerving out of control.
According to reports, the judge told Khan, “You were the one behind the wheel. It is not possible that your driver was behind the wheel. You were drunk and under the influence of alcohol. All the charges against Salman Khan have been proved.”
Later in the day, Khan was granted two days of interim bail after his lawyer filed for an appeal in the Bombay High Court. A Friday hearing will decide whether the court orders his arrest or extends bail until an appeal hearing.
The actor, who is the son of veteran screenwriter Salim Khan, has delivered some of Bollywood’s biggest hits in his three decade career such as Maine Pyar Kiya, Dabangg, Ready, Bodyguard and Ek Tha Tiger, among others. He has also been the host of the Indian version of Big Brother for five seasons which airs on Viacom18 network’s Colors channel.
Last year, Khan had a major hit wuth Kick for Walt Disney India’s UTV film unit.
Among his international projects, Khan co-produced last year’s Indo-Canadian coproduction Dr. Cabbie – part funded by Telefilm Canada – that also featured Kunal Nayyar (Big Bang Theory). Back in 2007, Khan starred in Indo-US coproduction Marigold with actress Ali Larter (Resident Evil).
Khan’s upcoming films include his own coproduction Bajrangi Bhaijaan for which he has been shooting. One report by wire agency Press of Trust of India said more than $31 million was riding on the verdict given Khan’s upcoming projects.
Khan is no stranger to controversy as he is also facing two other cases for allegedly poaching endangered animals and possessing unlicensed firearms, for which he has served some jail time. Khan has been battling the ongoing legal case for his alleged 1998 shooting of a Chinkara, a protected gazelle species considered sacred by the Bishnoi community in Rajasthan state.
Khan has denied any involvement in the incident that is said to have occurred when the actor was shooting the Hindi film Hum Saath Saath Hain (We Are All Together).
Khan could become the second big-name Bollywood actor to be imprisoned in the last two years. Sanjay Dutt – also the son of famous film parents, the late actor Sunil Dutt and actress Nargis – is currently behind bars over possession of weapons linked to several terrorist bombings in Mumbai in 1993.
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