Salman was not driving vehicle, says defence team

Mumbai : Countering strongly the prosecution’s stand that Salman Khan was driving the vehicle at time of the 2002 hit-and-run case, the Bollywood actor’s defence team on Friday said that evidence showed there were four people in the SUV and Ashok Singh was in the driver’s seat.

Initiating final arguments before Additional Sessions Judge D. W. Deshpande in the re-trial, defence lawyer Shrikant Shivade cited witness’ statements indicating Salman was not at the wheel that night, and also challenged the statement of the actor’s police bodyguard Ravindra Patil who had first lodged the accident complaint.

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“The police witness (Patil) had falsified on the number of occupants in the vehicle. He had stated there were three people including himself, the accused (Salman) and (the actor’s friend) Kamaal Khan. There is evidence of some others like Ramashray Pandey and an injured person who have stated the presence of four people. Both had said they saw two people going in a car and two others remaining,” Shivade argued.

The accident in the early hours of September 28, 2002 had left one pavement dweller dead and four others injured when the rashly-driven Toyota Land Cruiser rammed into the American Express Bakery near Salman’s seafront home Galaxy Apartments in Bandra west.

Shivade termed the prosecution theory as having “not just grey areas, but black areas” and also questioned the role of Kishan Shengal, the then senior police inspector of Bandra Police Station.

Seeking to pick holes in the prosecution arguments and alleging “manufactured evidence” to implicate Salman, Shivade argued that the car was occupied by one more person who could be Singh – who has owed up the accident.

“Salman was not driving the car. The defence of the accused (Salman) is not an afterthought as claimed by the prosecution, but it is true that Ashok Singh was driving,” he said.

“Merely because Salman got down from the driver’s side does not mean he was driving. We have explained this during the cross-examination of the defence witness and also in the accused’s statement,” he added.

He said that Salman left Galaxy Apartments to the Rain Bar at Juhu and then to the pub in JW Marriot Hotel, from where they were returning home when the accident took place.

“There is nothing to suggest that Salman was driving the vehicle. From home, the four of them (Salman, Kamaal Khan, bodyguard Ravindra Patil and driver Altaf) went to Rain Bar whose manager confirmed seeing four people coming out of the car,” Shivade said, seeking to give the sequence of the events that night.

From there, the actor and the others went to the JW Marriot Hotel where valet Yogesh Kadam parked the vehicle and when they left the hotel, the keys were handed over by parking attendant Kalpesh Varma.

While Kadam’s statement was not recorded, Verma was silent on who was driving the car, so the theory that the car was driven by Salman stands disproved, Shivade argued.

He also challenged the the prosecution charge of the vehicle speeding at 90-100 kmph saying this was not possible as the distance between JW Marriot Hotel and the accident site was around 7-8 km.

The time taken to cover this distance was between 2.15 to 2.45 a.m., and it is not possible for the driver to cover such a short distance in 30 minutes, especially at night when the roads are empty, and the time taken to cover the distance indicates the speed was not more than 90 kmph, Shivade said.

He argued that the supplementary statement of Patil, who died due to natural causes in 2007, was recorded on October 1, 2002 in Salman’s absence.

“Though he was the first prosecution witness, his statement was recorded at the fag end. Thus Salman was denied an opportunity to cross-examine other witnesses regarding Patil’s evidence. There was an ulterior motive to cause prejudice to the accused (Salman) and put him at a disadvantage,” Shivade contended.

The prosecution will submit its written arguments to the court on Monday and the defence arguments will continue its final arguments next Wednesday.