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Superstar faces deadly hit-and-run case verdict

06 May 2015, 09:03

Mumbai-A judge will rule Wednesday whether Bollywood superstar Salman Khan is guilty of killing a homeless man in a 2002 hit-and-run after a night out drinking, before trying to blame his driver.

Khan, star of blockbusters such as "Dabangg" (Fearless), is accused of driving his Toyota Land Cruiser into a group of homeless men sleeping rough in suburban Mumbai after spending the evening in an upmarket bar.

One man was killed and several others were injured in the incident.

Khan has always denied being behind the wheel, but if convicted of culpable homicide he faces up to 10 years in prison, bringing the career of one of the Indian movie industry's biggest box-office draws to a shuddering halt.

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

A string of prosecution witnesses, including survivors of the crash, have 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 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 (55 mph).

"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".

'Only drinking water'

Khan's lawyers said the action and romantic comedy 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 that 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 were carrying virtually non-stop coverage on Wednesday, with camera crews parked outside Khan's home.

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, the son of a respected film writer, has starred in more than 100 films and television shows since his first hit "Maine Pyar Kiya" (I Fell in Love) in the 1980s.

But the body-building actor is no stranger to controversy off screen and he spent more than a week behind bars for killing an endangered Indian gazelle in 1998 during a hunting trip.

Khan, who has never married, was also in the news for allegedly assaulting former Miss World and Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai with whom he had a long relationship.

The verdict is being keenly awaited both by his fans and Bollywood studios who stand to lose millions of dollars if they have to cancel filming for movies he has been signed up to.

One report by the Press of Trust of India said more than $31 million was riding on the verdict.

If he were to be jailed, Khan would become the second big-name Bollywood actor to be imprisoned in the last two years. Sanjay Dutt, the star of a series of gangster movies, is currently behind bars over possession of weapons linked to several bombings in Mumbai in 1993.

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