In a dramatic twist in the retrial of Bollywood actor Salman Khan's 2002 hit-and-run case, his driver Ashok Singh on Monday told a court here that it was he who drove the killer vehicle, but the prosecution appeared unconvinced by the confession.
The 43-year-old Ashok Singh told the court of Additional Sessions Judge D.W. Deshpande that he was driving the vehicle when the accident took place on September 28, 2002, leaving a pavement dweller dead, public prosecutor Pradeep Gharat told the media here.
Gharat pointed out that the only person who appeared to agree with Ashok Singh's version was Salman.
He said the defence had put up the driver to save the Bollywood actor.
"I have not seen any complaint or any record about Ashok Singh (being the driver) and no other witnesses have spoken about him," he said.
Ashok Singh told the court that he was at the wheel of the Toyota Land Cruiser which was not speeding when its tyre burst, but the car dragged to the left and he lost control over it.
As he tried hard to hit the brakes, the vehicle had already climbed the steps of the American Express Bakery, resulting in the death of a sleeping pavement dweller.
Shocked by the accident, Salman, who was sitting on the left seat attempted to open the door, but it was jammed. So he alighted from the right side or the driver's door, Ashok Singh said to questions posed by defence lawyer Shrikant Shivade.
Endorsing Salman's earlier statement in the court last week, Ashok Singh said that shortly after the accident, he dialled police control No.100 and informed them of the incident.
Later, he went to the Bandra police station to lodge a complaint, but said nobody there listened to him and he was made to wait on a bench outside.
Subsequently that morning, Salman was summoned to the police station and charged with the accident, making him (Ashok Singh) suspect something was wrong as his statement was not recorded.
Asked where was he for so many years, Ashok Singh replied: "From day one of the accident, I have been saying that I was driving the vehicle and not Salman Khan. But nobody listened, and I was not aware what I should do further."
Responding to prosecutor Gharat's pointed questions during cross-examination that he was taking the blame on himself in return for a huge sum of money, Ashok Singh denied the charge.
He countered by saying that he was in the family's employment since 1990 when he worked for Salim Khan, eminent script-writer and Salman's father, and was devoted to the family though he would not sacrifice his life for them.
Ashok Singh said he came to the court after Salim Khan's advice to do so and he continues to work for the family.
Besides the death of a man, four others sleeping on the pavement were injured in the accident outside American Express Bakery, close to the actor's sea-front house in Galaxy Apartments at Bandra.
Salman is facing re-trial in the case in the Mumbai Sessions Court with several charges, including culpable homicide not amounting to murder, which stipulates a 10-year jail term.
The actor was arrested soon after the accident and the case was tried before a Bandra magistrate's court for rash and negligent driving, the charge attracting a two-year jail sentence.
Later, the enhanced charges were slapped on the actor and the matter was transferred to the sessions court.
In a statement recorded on Friday under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, Salman said he was not drunk, not driving the SUV, and did not flee from the scene of the accident.
Further arguments in the case will continue on April 1.