Bollywood star Salman Khan gets five years' jail for SUV hit and run, no decision yet to appeal

Salman Khan (centre) arriving in a car at a sessions court in Mumbai on May 6, 2015. The Bollywood star was sentenced on Wednesday to five years in prison. -- PHOTO: AFP
Salman Khan (centre) arriving in a car at a sessions court in Mumbai on May 6, 2015. The Bollywood star was sentenced on Wednesday to five years in prison. -- PHOTO: AFP

MUMBAI (AFP/Bloomberg) - Salman Khan, one of Bollywood's biggest stars, was sentenced on Wednesday to five years in prison for drunkenly killing a homeless man with his SUV in a 2002 hit-and-run.

Judge D.W. Deshpande told a sessions court in Mumbai that Khan should receive "five years in jail" for the crash that the actor had blamed on his driver.

Khan looked stunned and tired as the sentence was read out, sinking into his chair as his family gathered around, according to an AFP reporter in the court.

The judge said all charges were proven against Khan. The actor can appeal the verdict in a higher court.

The Times Of India and other media reported Khan's lawyer as saying there is no decision on appealing till they have a copy of the judgement in their hands.

The judge found Khan guilty of culpable homicide after driving his Toyota Land Cruiser into a group of homeless men sleeping rough in suburban Mumbai after a night out drinking, rejecting his claim that his driver was to blame.

One man was killed and several others were injured in the incident. Khan fled the scene of the crash.

After the sentencing, Bollywood stars took to Twitter to express their support of Khan, with actor Arjun Kapoor saying: "It doesn't matter what anyone or any court says, he doesn't deserve this at any level."

But the victim's wife, Begum Shaikh, said she had been waiting a long time for justice, adding: "We have gone through a lot of hardships."

"Everything is so expensive and we hardly have any income. My kids are always under stress," she told the CNN-IBN channel.

The verdict had been keenly awaited both by Khan's fans and Bollywood studios, who stand to lose millions of dollars if they have to cancel filming for movies for which he has been signed up

Shares of Eros International Media Ltd, which is producing Bajrangi Bhaijan with Khan in the lead role, plunged as much as 7.3 per cent after the verdict and were set for their lowest close since Feb 26.

"Producers will be extremely careful in signing him for films until there's clarity on the judgment and what legal recourse is available to him," said Amod Mehra, an independent film trade analyst.

Khan had always denied being behind the wheel.

The trial began in earnest last year after a series of court hearings and legal hold-ups.

Prosecution witnesses, including survivors of the crash, testified that Khan was driving the vehicle when it ploughed at speed into the men sleeping on the street near a bakery in September 2002.

When 49-year-old Khan finally took the stand in March, he pleaded not guilty and told the court that his driver was responsible for mounting the pavement in the upmarket suburb of Bandra West.

The driver testified in court last month that he had been behind the wheel, and that the crash occurred after the front left tyre burst, making steering and braking difficult.

But the judge found Khan guilty of all charges including driving while under the influence of alcohol and without a licence. Khan is expected to go to the high court to apply for bail.

Defence lawyer Shrikant Shivade had argued against prison for Khan, saying the actor had given generously to charity and was suffering from a neurological condition. But prosecutor Pradeep Gharat said that "fines are not enough", adding that "the punishment has to be a deterrent" to others.

A constable attached to Khan's security detail said in his statement to police that the drunk actor lost control of the car while driving at about 90 kph. "The people were sleeping on the footpath. Salman and (his cousin) Kamaal ran away from the spot," said the constable, who died in 2007 of tuberculosis.

One of the sleeping labourers injured in the accident said in his statement that "Salman was so drunk he fell. He stood but he fell again and then he... ran away".

Khan's lawyers said the actor star had in fact been drinking water all evening and had climbed out of the driver's seat after the accident because the passenger side door had been damaged.

They also said the victim, Nurulah Mahbob Sharif, was killed during an operation to move the car, rather than the crash itself, when the bumper fell off and landed on him.

Television news channels carried virtually non-stop coverage on Wednesday, with camera crews parked outside Khan's home and surrounding the court.

The Times of India, which carried the front-page headline "Judgement Day for Salman", said the verdict would "bring the curtains down on a case that has riveted the media's attention for 13 years".

Khan is also awaiting an outcome of a case involving the hunting of endangered blackbucks in 1998. In that case, the Supreme Court has reserved its verdict.

He has starred in more than 100 films and television shows since his first hit Maine Pyar Kiya (I Fell In Love) in the 1980s.