The Bollywood superstar Salman Khan has been jailed for five years for poaching a protected species of Indian antelope.
A court in Rajasthan state on Thursday found Khan, one of the world’s best-paid actors, guilty of illegally hunting the two blackbucks from his car window while filming in Jodhpur in 1998.
Public prosecutors alleged that Khan, 52, and four other actors in the car with him fled the scene when they were spotted leaving the animals’ carcasses behind.
The other actors, among them Saif Ali Khan and Sonali Bendre, were acquitted by the court in Jodhpur for lack of evidence.
India’s wildlife protection act bans the hunting of all but a handful of wild animals without a special permit.
As well as the five-year sentence the court also fined Khan 10,000 rupees (£109). He has the option the conviction to higher courts but must apply for bail.
Hundreds of police surrounded the courtroom in Jodhpur to keep back fans of the actor, who is known for his bad-boy image and macho film roles.
Khan has long maintained that he was framed by forest officials in the case.
At the time of the poaching, blackbucks were regarded as a vulnerable animal, but have since been reclassified as a species of least concern, though they remain protected by Indian wildlife regulations.
Khan has a history of brushes with the law. In 2015, he was acquitted of killing a homeless man in a hit-and-run incident in 2002, a decision now being challenged in the supreme court.
His former girlfriend, the actor Aishwarya Rai, accused Khan of verbal and physical abuse in a 2002 interview – allegations Khan has denied.
Khan was first arrested in the poaching case in October 1998 after reports emerged that he had hunted the two antelopes and at least three other gazelles.
Eight years later, he was convicted of killing the blackbucks and sentenced to five years in prison, a decision he appealed to the Rajasthan high court, which suspended the sentence in August 2007 after the actor had spent two short stints in jail.
The charges were revised and laid again the following year, and have hung over Khan for the past decade, preventing him from obtaining a UK visa in 2013 until the Rajasthan government asked the court to give him leeway to travel.
In 2016, he was acquitted of separate poaching charges relating to the gazelles.
The allegations of poaching against the actor were first made by members of the Bishnoi community in Rajasthan, a sect that considers blackbucks to be a reincarnation of the 600-year-old guru.
Cases in India’s overburdened legal system can take years to be processed, but the lingering poaching charges have failed to dampen Khan’s box-office appeal. He earned US $37m last year, according to Forbes, making him India’s second-highest paid entertainer after Shah Rukh Khan.
His latest film, Tiger Zinda Hai, about a soldier who goes into Iraq to rescue hostages from Islamic State, collected about $85m worldwide.