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Preity Zinta supports prosecution in Bharat Shah case, says she received extortion threat

Press Trust of India

Posted: Jan 09, 2003 at 1256 hrs IST

Preity Zinta, film actress and star witness in a case of alleged Bollywood nexus with underworld, on Thursday supported prosecution's case by informing a special court that she had received extortion threat from a gangster in year 2000 but denied disclosing it to actor Sanjay Dutt.

Preity is the first Bollywood star who has not turned hostile in this case.

Preity told designated judge A. P. Bhangale that she had received a call on her cell phone when she was shooting for film "Chori Chori Chupke Chupke".

"Main bhai ka aadmi hoon (I am bhai's man). Pay Rs 50lakhs or face consequences", the caller had said.

The actress said that she considered this call to be a "crank call" and did not take the matter seriously.

Preity said she and Dutt had a common secretary, Pankaj Kharbanda to whom she had informed about the call on her cell phone regarding the extortion threat.

"It is quite possible that he may have informed Dutt about it. In any case, the entire Bollywood came to know about the threat," she said.

Prosecutor Rohini Salian urged the court to declare Preity a hostile witness as she had gone back on her statement recorded by police to the extent of denying that she had informed Dutt about the extortion threat.

The court, however, did not declare her hostile as she had substantially supported the prosecution.

Thirteen others who have not supported the prosecution include Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Rakesh Roshan, Ratan Jain, Mahesh Manjrekar, Sanjay Gupta, Harish Sughand, Ali Morani, Annes Bazme and Mohammed Morani.

In a statement to police two years back, Preity had said she had received a "threatening call" on her cell phone from an extortionist asking her to pay a sum of "Rs 50 lakhs or face consequence". She also told police that she had disclosed this information to her friend and actor Sanjay Dutt.

The actress told prosecutor Rohini Salian that she was offered the lead role in film "Chori Chori Chupke Chupke" for Rs 50 lakh remuneration and she had agreed to undertake it. This was highest ever offer made to her in her career.

In cross-examination, she told defence lawyers Harshad Ponda and Shrikant Shivde that film "Chori Chori Chupke Chupke" was not forced upon her and that she had agreed to perform in the lead role on merits as she liked the script.

Police have intercepted telephonic talk allegedly between Pakistan-based gangster Chhota Shakeel and film personalities—Sanjay Dutt, Mahesh Manjrekar, Sanjay Gupta and Harish Sughand—which indicated alleged nexus between them.

The call was allegedly made by Dutt and others from a hotel in Nasik on November 14, 2000 in which Sanjay Dutt inquired from Shakeel why he had threatened Preity Zinta.

According to the transcript of alleged telephonic talk, Shakeel told Dutt that he had "not" issued any extortion threat to Zinta. He also said that Preity was heroine of his film ("Chori Chori Chupke Chupke") and on the contrary he had paid her money to act in the lead role.

"Hum yaar se aur jaan se paisa nahin lete" (I do not take money from friends and beloved)," Shakeel had told Dutt.

Along with Dutt, the team of film "Kaante"—Mahesh Manjrekar, Harish Sughand and Sanjay Gupta—had also talked to Shakeel. Their conversations were in regard to developments in the Bollywood.

The prosecution has already examined Manjrekar, Sughandand Gupta as witnesses. However, they denied having talked to the underworld don and were declared "hostile".

Their sample voices were obtained by police and sent to Central Forensic Laboratory for matching them with the ones figuring in their alleged conversation with Shakeel. The reports have confirmed that they had talked to Shakeel.

However, Dutt's sample voice was not obtained because he has not been cited as a witness in this case.

Police have also intercepted telephone calls between gangster Shakeel and four accused in this case which reveal their nexus. The accused are film financier Bharat Shah, producer Nasim Rizvi, his assistant Abdul Rahim Allah Baksh and Dubai-based gangster Mohammed Shamshuddin alias bhatija.

The prosecution's case is that film "Chori Chori Chupke Chupke" was produced by Rizvi and financed by Shah at the instance of Shakeel.

The film has been attached by the court and its proceeds deposited in the government treasury by the court receiver.

57 witnesses in this case have deposed so far and about 20 more are yet to come, including investigation officers and those working in cell phone companies and VSNL.

Chhota Shakeel and Anjum are absconding accused in this case. They will face the trial separately as and when they are caught.

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