The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sunjay ducks behind drunkenness shield

Mumbai, March 7: Sunjay Dutt, a key witness in the Bharat Shah case, today told a special court that he did not know Chhota Shakeel. The actor also denied having ever spoken to the underworld don, now based in Pakistan.

Dutt was deposing as a witness in the Bharat Shah case, which is trying to pin the nexus between Bollywood and the underworld.

Shah, financier of the Salman Khan-Preity Zinta starrer Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, has been charged with extorting money on behalf of the mafia and furthering their interests in Bollywood.

Dutt, who is back in Bollywood’s premier list after the success of Kaante, told the court that he was too drunk to remember whom he spoke to on November 14, 2000, the day the police recorded a conversation he allegedly had with Shakeel.

Three of Dutt’s friends — directors Mahesh Manjrekar and Sanjay Gupta, and producer Harish Sugandh — were allegedly present with Dutt in his Nashik hotel room when the telephone conversation took place.

A detailed interaction has been recorded between all four and the person the police claim is Shakeel.

Dutt reiterated the statement he made to the police on February 4 this year when he completely denied knowing Shakeel, leave alone harbour links with him.

Strangely, Dutt remembered everything else about his Nashik visit. He told the court that he had gone there with his three friends and stayed in a particular hotel.

He, however, added: “I don’t remember speaking to anyone over the telephone on that day. I was under the influence of alcohol.”

When the prosecution played the recorded tape of the conversation, Dutt refused to recognise any of the voices, including his own.

In the conversation, Dutt is asking Shakeel about Zinta’s “harassment”. To this, Shakeel says he does not trouble “a friend and a beloved” and adds that he had himself paid Zinta to act in the movie. “Why should I give her the money first, only to take it away later'” asks Shakeel.

Dutt said in court today that he came to know about the threats only from his secretary Pankaj Kharbanda, who also works for the actress.

Manjrekar, Sugandh and Gupta have already been declared hostile. All three have denied speaking to Shakeel.

Yesterday, a key witness identified the sample voice of Dutt, prompting the tape to be sent to a forensic laboratory for comparative analysis with another one that contains the alleged conversation between the actor and Shakeel.

The witness had been summoned to Worli police station on February 4 and asked to be present as a “panch” while Dutt’s voice was being recorded.

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