Film financier free after serving time while awaiting trial

NEW DELHI — Bollywood movie mogul Bharat Shah was given a one-year jail term for withholding information about the criminal underworld’s involvement in the Indian film biz on Wednesday.

However, the diamond dealer and film financier, dubbed the King of Bollywood, walked free, as he had already spent 14 months inside awaiting trial.

He told reporters he now planned to resume his moviemaking career, promising a blockbuster starring Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan.

Judge A.P. Bhangale sentenced film producer Nasim Rizvi and assistant Abdul Rahim Allabux Khan to six years in jail and fines of 500,000 rupees ($10,000) each.

The judge found that Rizvi and Khan had been directly linked to a racket run by a Dubai-based underworld don to extort money from film personalities, but that Shah had come to know this only after he had commissioned them to work on his 2001 movie “Chori chori, chupke chupke” (Stealing Quietly).

Shah’s crime, the judge said, had been to not go to the police with the information once he became aware of the underworld links. By concealing the information, he added, Shah had facilitated criminal activities such as extortion threats to film personalities during and after the making of the movie.

Shah, who was arrested in January 2001, has been out on bail since April 3 last year, but his career has been hampered by the trial.

He said Wednesday he would put all his energy into his diamond dealing and film business but vowed not to hire another producer, saying he would produce all his movies himself.

He promised even bigger films in the future than his previous productions, which include “Devdas” (Pining Lover), whose $10 million budget is a record for an Indian movie.

Shah said he had already started work on the movie ‘Ek’ (One), directed by Ram Gopal Varma and Bachchan.

His lawyer had argued that Shah should not be severely punished as he had committed the blunder of not informing the police out of fear.

“My client was in a fix. If he files a complaint against Rizvi, the underworld would have butchered him, and if he did not, the police catch him. So he decided to commit the lesser offense of not reporting to the police,” Shah’s lawyer Shrikant Shivade said.

Mumbai’s joint commissioner for police said Shah’s sentence was too lenient and that an appeal was planned.

This is the first time the police have proved a connection between India’s prolific film industry and Mumbai’s Muslim-dominated Mafia.

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