Actor Salman Khan is not guilty in the 2002 hit-and-run in which a man was killed, the Bombay High Court ruled today, overturning a trial court order. The 49-year-old superstar broke down after hearing the verdict that cancelled his five-year jail sentence.
"The decision of the trial court is set aside. Salman Khan is acquitted of all charges," the high court said, asking the Mumbai police to return his passport.
"On the basis of evidences produced by the prosecution, (Salman Khan) cannot be convicted, no matter how differently the common man thinks," the judge explained in the order he started reading out three days ago.
Salman Khan, one of Bollywood's biggest stars with around Rs 200 crore riding on him, had rushed to court from a film shooting for the verdict.
I accept the decision of the judiciary with humility. I thank my family, friends & fans for their support & prayers .- Salman Khan (@BeingSalmanKhan) December 10, 2015
In May, a trial court had held Salman Khan guilty of killing a man with his SUV after a night out drinking on September 28, 2002. The actor's Toyota Land Cruiser had crashed into five men sleeping outside a bakery in Bandra.
Nurullah Mahboob Shaikh, his family's only earning member, died on the spot. The four others were injured, one lost his leg. They say they were not compensated enough.
The actor has said that his driver Ashok Singh was at the wheel.
The High Court said that the prosecution had failed to establish beyond doubt that the actor was driving and was drunk at the time of the accident. It discredited the testimony of a key prosecution witness - Mr Khan's bodyguard Ravindra Patil - who had said that the actor was driving drunk and had ignored his repeated warnings. Patil died of tuberculosis in 2007.
"If the witness is partly reliable, then corroboration is required. Ravindra Patil cannot be considered as a wholly reliable witness," the court said, asserting that the sessions court had made a mistake by relying on his statement.
The court observed that the manner in which evidence like bar bills had been collected suggested fabrication.
Not questioning singer Kamaal Khan, who was also in Salman Khan's car that night, was also a major error, said the court.
Speaking on an NDTV show, Salman Khan had said that he was not driving the car and remarked: "only a dabangg (fearless) judge will set me free."