Bollywood star jailed for poaching

Bollywood star Salman Khan's career is at risk after he was sentenced to five years in prison in a 19-year-old poaching case
Bollywood actor Salman Khan (far left) arriving at a court in Jodhpur in the western Indian state of Rajasthan yesterday. Khan, best known for his macho roles, spent a week in prison in 1998 when first accused of using unlicensed arms to shoot the bl
Bollywood actor Salman Khan (left) arriving at a court in Jodhpur in the western Indian state of Rajasthan yesterday. Khan, best known for his macho roles, spent a week in prison in 1998 when first accused of using unlicensed arms to shoot the black bucks. Last year, he was cleared by a court over the alleged use of unlicensed guns on the expedition.PHOTO: REUTERS

Salman Khan, who denied killing antelopes in 1998, can still appeal against conviction

JODHPUR (Rajasthan) • Bollywood superstar Salman Khan has been sentenced to five years' prison by an Indian court for killing endangered wildlife two decades ago.

Khan, who denied poaching the rare antelopes known as black bucks in 1998, can still appeal against his conviction for a crime that has gripped celebrity-obsessed India for years.

"The court has given a five-year jail term and fined Salman Khan 10,000 rupees (S$200)," prosecution lawyer Mahipal Bishnoi told reporters outside the court in the Rajasthan city of Jodhpur yesterday.

Hundreds of police were deployed outside the courtroom to keep back fans who massed to support the body-building actor best known for his macho roles.

Khan, one of the Indian movie industry's most bankable stars, wore black sunglasses and a figure-hugging black shirt as he walked briskly from a white SUV to the courthouse flanked by security.

Four other Bollywood stars - Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam Kothari - were also accused of joining the hunting trip but were acquitted for lack of evidence.

Khan, whose legion of fans emulate his distinct hairstyle and fashion, has accused Rajasthan's forest department of framing him over the black buck case.

His defence lawyers had suggested the black bucks died of natural causes such as overeating, and claimed there was no evidence they had been shot.

The 52-year-old has been dogged by multiple charges since undertaking the infamous safari on protected forest land while shooting a film in Rajasthan.

The Bishnois, a Rajasthani tribe seen as custodians of the region's wildlife, filed a complaint against the actors.

Khan spent a week in prison in 1998 when first accused of using unlicensed arms to shoot the black bucks. Last year, he was cleared by a court over the alleged use of unlicensed guns on the expedition. A higher court is challenging his acquittal.

He was also found guilty of killing gazelles on the hunting trip and served a brief stint in jail in 2006, but was later acquitted on appeal.

Controversy has followed the Bollywood bad boy since he burst onto the silver screen in the 1980s.

He was cleared in 2015 of killing a homeless man in a hit-and-run accident. That decision is now being challenged in the Supreme Court. Indian courts can often take years - and sometimes decades - to pronounce verdicts.

He was also accused of assaulting a former Miss World and provoked a firestorm in 2016 by saying his workout schedule for a film left him feeling "like a raped woman".

But the off-screen drama has done little to dampen his appeal.

The actor known as "bhai", meaning "brother" in Hindi, enjoys a cult-like status with the majority of his devotees, young men who envy Khan for being unmarried at 52.

Khan remains one of Bollywood's biggest draws, starring in more than 100 films and television shows.

According to Forbes, he made US$37 million (S$48.6 million) in yearly earnings to finish second behind Shah Rukh Khan in last year's Bollywood rankings.

Both the Khans are among the top 10 most highly paid actors in the world. Salman Khan's latest blockbuster Tiger Zinda Hai (Tiger Is Alive) collected some US$85 million worldwide.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2018, with the headline 'Bollywood star jailed for poaching'. Print Edition | Subscribe