Bollywood icon Salman Khan acquitted of weapons charges
Bollywood superstar Salman Khan was acquitted Wednesday of illegal possession of weapons, another victory for an Indian movie icon who has been beset by legal problems.
Khan was found not guilty in an incident from 1998, when he was accused of poaching two rare blackbucks, a type of antelope, in the northwestern state of Rajasthan. He was accused of carrying a revolver and rifle whose licenses had expired.
Khan, 51, was present in court in the city of Jodhpur when the verdict was announced Wednesday. His lawyer told reporters that the prosecution had “failed to provide conclusive evidence.”
“The court admitted our arguments that Khan was framed in this case, as he had no concrete evidence against him,” said his lawyer, H.M. Saraswat, who had argued that forest department officials had planted evidence against the actor.
Khan has long been a major figure in India’s vibrant film industry. He has appeared in scores of movies — many of them Bollywood’s top-grossing films — and has amassed a worldwide following, particularly among the Indian diaspora. His legal travails have been covered closely by the media, and loyal fans have cheered every acquittal.
Khan faced up to seven years in prison if convicted of the firearms charges. Prosecutors said they would appeal the verdict.
Prosecutors have alleged that Khan, while on a film shoot, took his co-stars hunting in September 1998 and killed two blackbucks and a gazelle. The incident triggered three poaching cases against the actor.
He was convicted in two of the poaching cases and sentenced by a lower court to six years in prison. But he served only six days after his lawyers appealed, and a higher court overturned the verdicts, ruling there was insufficient evidence to conclude the pellets that killed the animals came from his weapons.
The third poaching case is in its final stages.
Hunting animals is illegal in India, although Indians can carry weapons for self-defense, provided they have licenses.
After Wednesday’s verdict, Khan tweeted, “Thank you for all the support and good wishes.”
In 2015, a court overturned Khan’s conviction in a hit-and-run driving case in which he was accused of running over and killing a homeless man who was sleeping on the sidewalk.
Despite his brushes with the law, Khan remains one of India’s most bankable stars, a former romantic lead who has swelled into a muscled action hero with an army of rabid fans. His 2016 film “Sultan,” the love story of a wrestler, was the highest-grossing Bollywood film of the year, earning more than $85 million worldwide.
Parth M.N. is a special correspondent.
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