Dubbing the driver of superstar Salman Khan as a "liar" for telling the court that he was driving the car and not the actor when it rammed into a bakery shop in September 2002 killing one person, the prosecution today sought action against him (the driver) for giving false evidence.
"Ashok Singh is liable to be prosecuted for perjury (giving false evidence on oath) as there are circumstances to suggest that he was telling a lie," argued prosecutor Pradeep Gharat as the actor sat in the front row keenly hearing him.
The actor was called today to appear in person as the prosecution had last time made a grievance that Khan was not present in the court during final arguments. Sessions Judge D W Deshpande has again summoned him tomorrow when prosecution would sum up its arguments.
Attired in blue denim jeans and an offwhite shirt, 49-year-old Khan came to the court unshaven and occupied a chair next to that of his sister Alvira Khan. He got up twice to offer seat to his secretary who had also come for the hearing held in a jam-packed courtroom.
It is the prosecution's case that Salman had rammed his car into the shop in the wee hours on September 28, 2002, resulting in the death of a person and injuries to four who were sleeping outside. It also alleged that he was drunk and was driving without a licence.
The prosecutor argued that the evidence of the actor's driver should be discarded because his statement (that Salman Khan was not behind the wheel) had not been suggested by any witnesses. This piece of evidence had been introduced after the prosecution closed its case and the accused deposed before the court to give his statement under section 313 of Cr.Pc.
The prosecutor also described as a "lie" the actor's statement to the court that he was just drinking a glass of water in the hotel where he had gone just before the mishap.
The prosecutor referred to the statement of a waiter of `Rain Bar' where Khan had gone with his singer friend Kamal Khan and brother Sohail. The waiter had said he served 'Bacardi Rum' and cocktails along with prawns and snacks to Khan's group.
The waiter had said that Salman was holding a glass of "clear liquid". The prosecutor submitted that clear liquid did not mean a glass of water but was suggestive of Barcardi Rum which the group had ordered. Moreover, he said, 62mg of alcohol content was found in Khan's blood sample after the mishap.
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Gharat said the conduct of Khan's driver as a defence witness was unnatural. On one hand, he said a day before his deposition before the court that he decided to tell the truth upon the advice he received from Salman's father, script- writer Salim Khan.
But Salman's lawyers had told the court a few days in advance that driver Ashok Singh would depose, Gharat pointed out.
The prosecution's case is Khan had gone with his friends first to the `Rain Bar' and later to the JW Marriot that night.
The prosecutor referred to evidence given by a hotel staff member that Salman was sitting on the driver's seat of the car. After he got Rs 500 tip from the actor, he closed the right-hand-side door on the driver's side and they drove away. "This suggests that Salman was driving," Gharat said.
Ashok Singh has said when he reached the hotel, he found Salman sitting on driver's seat. But he got up and went to the left side on the front. Kamal Khan and police bodyguard of the actor, Ravindra Patil, sat behind.
Describing the driver's version as a "cooked-up story," Gharat said Ashok Singh did not figure in the version of the hotel staffer or any other witness. Also, the presence of Ashok Singh had not been suggested by any witnesses, he added.
The prosecutor wondered how the driver had kept silent for more than 12 years. Salman too faced the trial all these years and never asked Singh to tell the truth, Gharat said.
The prosecutor asked why the driver was "tolerated" by Khan's family since 2002 (after being supposedly responsible for the mishap) as he was in their service even now. Gharat referred to the driver's deposition that he was "devoted" to his employer (Salman) and was ever ready to sacrifice anything because Salman always helped his staff members. The prosecutor said it was this "spirit" which made the driver give a false evidence to save his master.
Knowing fully well that the actor was facing trial in the hit-and-run case, Khan's driver did not tell police, media or the court until now that he was driving the car and not the actor, the prosecutor said.
Gharat also had a dig at driver Ashok Singh's claim that he did not know how many persons got trapped under the car when the mishap occurred. "Singh is telling lies because he was neither driving the car nor was he present at the accident spot," the prosecutor alleged.
The prosecutor also termed as "a lie" Singh's claim that he went to Bandra police station but a police inspector refused to take down his complaint.
He argued that the driver met Salman Khan at police station and after the actor was arrested and given bail, they left the place as the media was waiting outside. "Even here, Ashok Singh faced the camera with Salman Khan but did not open his mouth that he was driving the car."
Singh was liable to be prosecuted for perjury, said Gharat, adding that "Singh had intentionally given false evidence to save Salman Khan."
Merely because a political party had taken out a morcha to protest against the careless attitude of the car driver and there was pressure of the media, it cannot be said that police had falsely implicated Khan, Gharat further added.
The prosecutor also dwelt upon the version given by the actor's police bodyguard (now dead) who had said he was accompanying Khan at the time and had warned him against driving so rashly as he had taken drinks. The court should accept his statement recorded by a Magistrate, he said.
Gharat's argument will continue tomorrow.