| Bharat Shah leaves court in Mumbai after the verdict. (AFP)
Mumbai, Sept. 30: Film financier Bharat Shah became Bollywood’s biggest and richest figure to be convicted when a Mumbai court today found him guilty of keeping quiet on the industry’s links with the underworld.
But the court dropped charges under a much harsher law, which could have sent the diamond merchant to jail for life, saying tapes produced by police as proof of his conversation with the underworld were “doubtful” as evidence.
Shah, convicted under Section 118 of the Indian Penal Code, can get a maximum of seven years when designated judge A.P. Bhangale pronounces the sentence tomorrow.
However, the other accused— film producer Nasim Rizvi and his associate Abdul Rahim Allahbaksh Khan — were found guilty under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act for having forged links with the underworld to extort money from film personalities. They were working in Bollywood for underworld don Chhota Shakeel, the court said.
The prosecution produced as evidence 30 audio tapes containing the diamond merchant’s alleged telephone conversations with Shakeel on October 27, 2000. But the judge said the tapes were “doubtful” as evidence and there was no proof that the voice on the tapes was Shah’s.
He added that Shah had financed Chori Chori Chupke Chupke and there was no evidence to show that it was funded by the underworld.
The court said Shah had no knowledge that Rizvi was Shakeel’s man when he financed the film but learnt about their links later. But though he came to know of the connection, he concealed it from the police and thus facilitated extortion by Rizvi and Shakeel.
Shah said that once the sentence is awarded, he is certain to move the high court.
The case had caught the imagination of the public because of the appearance of so many Bollywood figures like Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Rakesh Roshan, producer Harish Sughand and directors Mahesh Manjrekar and Sanjay Gupta in the witness box.
It saw the diamond merchant, who got bail from the Supreme Court after repeated rejections by lower courts, submit a security deposit of Rs 50 crore to be allowed to visit Paris and London last year to promote Devdas, India’s official entry to the Oscars. It was the same amount of money that went into making Devdas, at that time India’s costliest film.
In September, Shah paid around Rs 77 crore to attend the double wedding of his brother’s children in Antwerp.
The trial also proved that only Preity Zinta wore the pants in the industry. At the hearing, Zinta stuck to her statement to the police that she had received a “pay up or else” extortion call from the underworld while her male colleagues like Shah Rukh and Salman were accused by the police of changing the script.
Salman denied he received threats from any quarter to act in a film and also failed to identify Allahbaksh Khan, sitting in the dock.
Shah Rukh denied that he was threatened by Rizvi and Allahbaksh Khan and asked to act in their film and was also persuaded by them to speak to Shakeel. Fourteen of the 74 witnesses turned hostile during the trial.
Shah was arrested on January 8, 2001, after being accused of issuing threats to actors with the help of Shakeel and forcing them to work in Chori Chori Chupke Chupke. It was alleged that the Karachi-based Shakeel was actually financing the film and the three — Shah, Rizvi, its producer, and Allahbaksh Khan — were his frontmen who were extorting money and threatening film stars. Shah was also accused of passing money to Mumbai’s gangsters via the hawala route.
Shah’s family and friends, including filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, were with him at the courtroom today. Bhatt said the police had framed Shah because they were at the beck and call of the administration.
The judge acquitted Dubai-based businessman Mohammed Shamshuddin, alias Bhatija, for lack of evidence.