Justice for celebrities
South African runner Oscar Pistorius may once have been dubbed ‘the fastest man on no legs’, but the law has still caught up with him. A trial court has sentenced the fallen hero to six years in prison for murdering his girlfriend. The trial court had in September 2014 convicted him of culpable homicide after months of hearings that transfixed South Africa and much the world. For Pistorius epitomized the courage of the human spirit like few athletes have done in the sporting are. Born with a congenital absence of the fibula bone in both his legs, he was only 11 months old when his legs were amputated between the knees and ankles. Undaunted, the child took to rugby, water polo, tennis and wrestling in school, before he switched to running while undergoing rehabilitation. Before long, he was scorching the tracks with his racing blades, and the legend of the ‘Blade Runner’ was born. There was a sense of inevitability in the sprint golds Pistorius grabbed at the 2004 Athens Paralympics, the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and other world championships for athletes with disabilities. But Pistorius had set his sights higher, for his sporting motto was: ‘You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have’. His struggles to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics caught the imagition of sports lovers as well as organizations fighting for the rights of the specially abled. A piquant situation arose when experts commissioned by the IAAF ruled that Pistorius’ carbon-fibre prosthetics were giving him an advantage over runners with tural ankles and feet, as he burned 25 percent less energy! When he appealed and won his case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, there was a sense of justice being done. Pistorius went on to win a 4x400m relay silver at the 2011 Daegu World Championships, besides making it to the 400m semifils and 4x400m fils at the 2012 London Olympics.
There was worldwide shock and dismay at the news of Pistorius shooting girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp dead at his posh Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day morning in 2013. The trial court ruled Pistorius had acted negligently when he shot Steenkamp, but that he didn’t do it intentiolly as he mistook her for an intruder in his bathroom. But South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeals overturned this verdict, finding Pistorius guilty of murder as ‘he should have known that firing his gun would have killed whoever was behind the bathroom door, regardless of who he thought it was’. In a similar strict application of judicial principle, a Spanish court has now handed football great Lionel Messi and his father a sentence of 21 months in jail and a fine of 3.7 million Euros for tax fraud. The court found that the duo had used a web of shell companies to evade taxes on income from the Messi’s image rights, thereby defrauding the Spanish government of 4.2 million Euros in tax from 2007 to 2009. The state prosecutors had asked the court to let off Messi, arguing that he was uware how his father was maging his income. But the court agreed with the state attorney, representing tax authorities — that Messi simply ‘didn’t want to pay his taxes’, that he behaved like ‘a crime boss who doesn’t want to know about the details’. In India, the Supreme Court took an uncompromising stand when it refused to let off film star Sanjay Dutt for illegally possessing firearms. At that time, there were many who advocated the pernicious logic that a popular entertainer like ‘Munbhai’ Dutt deserved some leniency for his errant ways. But as it had been proved that Dutt had received firearms from persons linked with the 1993 Mumbai blasts, the apex court rightly gave no relief in a case with a terror backdrop. However, another errant film star Salman Khan has led a charmed life, with the 2002 hit-and-run case against him resulting in acquittal by the Bombay High Court last year for the prosecution’s failure to prove the charges against him on all counts. The Supreme Court has now admitted a plea by the Maharashtra government challenging Khan’s acquittal. As for the 1998 case of black buck poaching against Salman, the prosecution is still trying to establish its case, despite the Supreme Court last year quashing the Rajasthan High Court’s order staying his conviction by the trial court. There has to be an end to law-breaking celebrities taking the entire law-enforcement system for a ride, thereby tying the court’s hands for years on end.