Indian court upholds weapons conviction for Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, orders him to prison

NEW DELHI - India's Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the weapons conviction of Bollywood leading man Sanjay Dutt and ordered him to report to prison within four weeks in a case linked to the deadliest terror attack in Indian history.

Dutt's failed appeal of his conviction was part of a broader ruling by the Supreme Court on cases stemming from the 1993 bombings that killed 257 people in the financial hub of Mumbai. A total of 100 people were convicted of involvement in the blasts.

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The court upheld the death sentence given to Yakub Memon, who is a brother of Ibrahim 'Tiger' Memon, a suspected mastermind of the bombings who remains at large. However, the court commuted to life in prison the death sentences given to 10 other men convicted of carrying out the blasts. Some of the men have been in prison for nearly two decades.

Dutt, 53, originally had been sentenced to serve six years in prison on the charge of possessing an automatic rifle and a pistol that were supplied to him by men subsequently convicted in the bombings. He served 18 months in jail before he was released on bail in November 2007 pending an appeal to the top court.

The court shaved one year off his sentence Thursday and ordered him imprisoned within a month to finish out the remaining 3 1/2 years of his sentence. Dutt had earlier been acquitted of the more serious charges of terrorism and conspiracy.

In a statement released to the Indian media, Dutt said he was "heart-broken" and "shattered and in emotional distress."

"If they want me to suffer more I have to be strong," he said.

Dutt told reporters that he was consulting experts to explore his legal options.

The actor's case is part of a sprawling Mumbai bombings trial that has dragged on for 18 years. Dutt maintains he knew nothing about the bombing plot and that he asked for the guns to protect his family — his mother was Muslim and his father Hindu — after receiving threats during sectarian riots in Mumbai.

The 1993 bombings were seen at the time as the world's worst terrorist attack, with 13 bombs exploding over a two-hour period across Mumbai. Powerful explosives were packed into cars and scooters parked near India's main Bombay Stock Exchange and other sites in the city. In addition to the 257 dead, more than 720 people were injured in the attack.

The bombings were believed to have been acts of revenge for the demolition of a 16th century mosque by Hindu nationalists in northern India in 1992. After the demolition, religious riots erupted, leaving more than 800 people dead, most of them Muslims.

The court's ruling on Dutt comes as a blow for Mumbai's film industry, putting several films he was working on in limbo.

Despite his brush with the law and his stint in jail, Dutt's Bollywood career flourished over the past two decades. He gained enormous popularity for a series of Hindi films in which he played the role of a reformed thug who follows the teachings of nonviolence advocate and Indian independence hero Mohandas Gandhi.

Industry estimates said Dutt was currently involved in projects worth at least $20 million. The actor recently completed two movies which were being readied for release.

Investigators said the weapons found in Dutt's home were part of a consignment of guns and explosives brought to India for the serial blasts.

"The nexus between Bollywood and the underworld was exposed during the investigation in this case," said Rakesh Maria, the head of the Anti-Terrorist Squad in Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital.

Links between Bollywood and the Mumbai criminal underworld were especially strong during the two decades before the government recognized the film industry as legitimate in 2000.

Filmmakers looking for funds often turned to Mumbai's shadowy building and criminal mafia bosses, who pumped their undeclared earnings into the country's fast-growing movie industry.

In the last decade, Bollywood film and entertainment companies have become corporations, raising funds from the market and through bank credits and private equity.

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