Dutt acquitted of terror charge, held guilty under Indian Arms Act

Mumbai, Nov 28 | Updated: Nov 29 2006, 05:30am hrs
After a trial spanning 13 years, Sanjay Munnabhai Dutt was on Tuesday acquitted of the grave conspiracy charge in the 1993 serial blasts but was convicted for a much lesser offence under the Arms Act by a TADA court. The court ruled that the Bollywood actor was not a terrorist.

Sanjay, 47, whose popularity zoomed after the two hits Munnabhai MBBS and sequel Lage Raho Munnabhai, will not go to jail immediately as Judge PD Kode extended his bail till December 19. As with 90 others convicted in the blasts case, the judge did not pronounce the sentence just then.

Dressed in a checked shirt, a visibly tense Sanjay was present in the jam-packed, heavily-guarded court when the verdict was pronounced to the relief of his family and friends. This relief echoed through Bollywood, where movies involving an investment of more than Rs 150 crore are riding on his acting prowess.

Sanjay, who has spent two spells totaling about 16 months in jail during the trial, was convicted under Sections 3 and 7 read with Section 25(1-A)(1-B) of the Indian Arms Act, for possessing a 9mm pistol and an AK-56 rifle, and faces a prison term of about 3years.

Legal experts gave conflicting opinions on what his punishment would be.

Pointing out that Sanjay had already spent much time in jail, Union Minister Kapil Sibal, an eminent lawyer who represented Sanjay in a bail case before the apex court, said the actor may be punished with just a fine. Others said he might get an appealable prison term.

Giving his verdict, Judge Kode said, During my reasoning I have not found him to be a terrorist... I accept the stand of Sanjay possessing weapons for self-defence, he said.

The court acquitted Sanjays friends Yusuf Nallawalla and Kersi Adajenia of terrorism but found them guilty under the Arms Act for destroying evidence by melting an AK-56.

Zebunisa Qazi was held guilty of abetting terrorism by keeping weapons delivered to her by gangster Abu Salem and his men from Dutts residence.

The court also held former additional customs collector Somnath Thapa guilty of participating in the conspiracy.