Originally created 10/02/03

Convictions raise concerns of mob influence in Bollywood



BOMBAY, India -- An Indian movie mogul and a producer were found guilty Wednesday of having links to organized crime, highlighting fears the mob has infiltrated the world's biggest film industry, known as Bollywood.

The convictions were seen as an ambitious attempt to crackdown on mafia influence in India's glitzy film world, known for glamorous stars and films featuring syrupy plots and elaborate song-and-dance sequences.

Producer Nazim Rizvi received a six-year jail sentence for mob connections. Movie financier Bharat Shah - also one of India's top diamond traders - was sentenced to a year for withholding information about organized crime. Shah was set free because he had already spent a year in jail awaiting trial.

Prosecutor Rohini Salian had sought the maximum penalty of seven years for Shah, saying it "would serve as a lesson" for criminal elements in the movies

The court Tuesday acquitted Shah of having direct links with the mafia but found he failed to tell police about the mob operations in the film industry.

"In my life I have never done a wrong thing. Knowingly or unknowingly, if I have committed a crime, I am sorry," Shah said in a statement he read to the packed courtroom. "My family and I have suffered a lot of threats from the underworld, but due to fear, I did not complain to the police."

The prosecutions have rocked India's film industry - dubbed Bollywood in honor of its main center, Bombay, also known as Mumbai.

Churning out 800 features a year, the movie industry's total revenues were $2.8 billion last year and projected to be $3.6 billion for 2003, according to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

The state government said it would appeal Wednesday's judgment.

Chhagan Bhujbal, the state's deputy chief minister, told The Associated Press that a huge police effort was required to expose the links between the mafia and Bollywood.

"We wanted to give a message to people and to Bollywood that even top people will not be spared," he said.

Movie executives say the mafia, both inside and outside India, exercises powerful control on the industry - extorting money or giving high-interest loans to stars and directors.

Rizvi's assistant also got a six-year sentence on Wednesday.