New Delhi: Two face-to-face meetings, numerous video calls from Tihar Jail, and a host of gifts ranging from Hermès bags worth lakhs, diamond jewellery from Tiffany, and exotic cats and horses sent through a carrier sum up a whirlwind seven-month “love affair” between alleged conman Sukesh Chandrasekhar and actor Jacqueline Fernandez, ThePrint has learnt.
The duo’s “love story” began in January 2021 when Chandrasekhar allegedly started calling and messaging Fernandez from inside Tihar Jail. While Fernandez did not respond at first, Chandrasekhar apparently approached her through her hairdresser, introducing himself as the “owner of Sun TV and Malabar Jewels” and as someone “close to Home Minister Amit Shah”. This is when the two started talking, sources in the Enforcement Directorate (ED) told ThePrint.
According to ED sources, Fernandez during her questioning told investigators that she was not even aware that Chandrasekhar was calling her from inside the jail, and that she often wondered why he “avoided meeting her at occasions”. Chandrasekhar, who faces 20 separate criminal cases, has been in prison since 2017.
“She claimed that he met her only twice while he was out of jail on parole. One of these meetings happened in Chennai. Whenever Fernandez would ask for a meeting, he would say he was stuck due to Covid restrictions. This was also the time when Covid struck and there was a lockdown. Then came the second wave (of the pandemic),” a source said.
“Chandrasekhar was, however, in constant touch with Fernandez through video calls that he made from the office space that he had created inside Tihar jail,” added the source.
The source further said that Fernandez mentioned reading about Chandrasekhar once in the news and asked their go-between about it, but she was told that he has been “implicated in a false case” and that all this “keeps happening with big businessmen”
However, Chandrasekhar’s lawyer Anant Malik said, “It is true that their affair was a short one and that she never visited him in jail. They met only twice. They were in touch for about seven months, and that is a long enough period to know the whereabouts of a person.”
“A simple Google search would reveal who Sukesh is. Jacqueline is certainly not technologically challenged. More so, his wife Leena is part of the industry and has acted in Madras Cafe. Sukesh was based in Mumbai at one point and was arrested there also. So who Sukesh is, is clear, and it is impossible that Jacqueline was unaware of his involvements or whereabouts.”
“Moreover, their relationship, even though short lived, was based out of love and affection and not material things [as] portrayed till now,” he added.
Trouble has been brewing for Fernandez ever since the ED tagged her as a witness and a possible “beneficiary” of a Rs 200-crore money laundering racket allegedly run by Chandrasekhar. In December last year, the Sri Lankan actor was stopped from boarding a flight to Muscat from Mumbai airport after the ED issued a lookout circular (LOC) in her name. She has also appeared before the ED for questioning on several occasions, including the latest on 27 June.
The ED’s case against Chandrasekhar is based on an FIR filed by the Delhi Police’s Economic Offences Wing (EOW), in which he is accused of cheating and extorting Aditi Singh, wife of the former promoter of Religare Enterprises, Shivinder Mohan Singh. The latter was arrested in October 2019 in a case related to alleged misappropriation of funds at Religare Finvest Ltd.
According to ED officials, Chandrasekhar allegedly took money from Aditi posing as a government official and promising to get bail for her husband. In 2020, it’s claimed that he impersonated then-law secretary Anup Kumar and home secretary Ajay Bhalla to extort Rs 215 crore from Aditi. He allegedly told Aditi that she should follow his instructions and also told her that her conversations were being “heard” by the home minister and the prime minister.
Between December 2020 and January 2021, Chandrasekhar allegedly messaged Fernandez multiple times, introducing himself as a “fan”. When she did not respond, Chandrasekhar is alleged to have approached one Pinky Irani, a common link, asking her to help him.
According to a submission made by the ED in the Supreme Court, a copy of which is with ThePrint, Unitech promoter Sanjay Chandra introduced Pinky to Chandrashekhar and asked her to “help him”. The submission was made on 20 June in response to a plea by Chandrasekhar seeking transfer to some other prison.
“Chandrasekhar told her that he was interested in Jacqueline Fernandez and wanted to connect with her. Pinky then reached Shaan, make-up artist of Jacqueline Fernandez, and also met him in the JW Marriott Hotel to convince him,” the application said.
According to ED sources, Shaan was told that Chandrasekhar belonged to a “big political family” and that he should “convince Fernandez to speak to him”.
“Fernandez said she was convinced by Shaan and Pinky, who constantly told her that Chandrasekhar was a good match as he loved her and came from an influential family. She was also told that he had good contacts in the southern film industry and that her future would be secured if she went ahead with this relationship,” the source said.
“They also allegedly told her that she was getting old and that her days in Bollywood were numbered. After much convincing, Fernandez agreed to speak to him.”
According to the source, what followed then was a trail of gifts that Chandrasekhar started sending to Fernandez. “Pinky became a personal shopper for Chandrasekhar. She would go to various showrooms like Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, etc. and pick things for Fernandez. Chandrasekhar would select them over video call,” the source said.
Chandasekhar also hired Leepakshi Ellawadi, who works in Mumbai as a costume designer and an image consultant, to “style Fernandez”. In her statement to ED, Ellawadi said she was hired as a stylist for Jacqueline Fernandez and her job included sending her the latest selection of clothing and accessories from all over the world and across brands.
A 7,000-page charge sheet filed by the ED mentions that Chandrasekhar gave Fernandez an Arabian horse worth Rs 52 lakh, three Persian cats that cost about Rs 9 lakh each, a diamond ring from Tiffany, expensive paintings, and other gifts. According to the charge sheet, Fernandez received gifts worth up to Rs 10 crore in total from Chandrasekhar.
In April, the ED attached assets belonging to Fernandez worth Rs 7.27 crore in connection with the case. According to sources, Fernandez’s name cropped up in the investigation after Chandrasekhar’s wife Leena Maria Paul, who is also currently in jail, informed investigators about the alleged affair.
“It was Leena who found out about Fernandez as she heard Chandrasekhar talking to her over the phone. When the investigators dug further, it was found that Chandrasekhar had indeed given her gifts worth crores — and all that from the money he earned from extortion,” the source said.
According to the source, Pinky not only helped Chandrasekhar get in touch with Fernandez but also other models and actors. The ED’s submission in court also mentions this.
“Chandrasekhar had told her that he had an office in Tihar Jail and anyone could go and meet him from Gate 3 of Tihar Jail. Pinky had introduced Akshara Gowda, Nikita Tamboli, Sophia Singh, Kyra Dutt and Chahat Khanna to Chandrasekhar and had even taken them to Tihar Jail to meet Chandrasekhar on different occasions,” the submission said.
The source said that during her questioning, Fernandez said she “regrets falling for the wrong person and trusting him with whatever he told her”.
‘BMW, personal office — Rs 30 crore paid for luxuries’
According to the ED investigation, since 2017, Chandrasekhar had access to telephones inside Tihar Jail along with food and alcohol from Hotel Taj, for which he allegedly coughed up a sum of Rs 30 crore between 2020 and 2021.
In a statement to the ED, Chandrasekhar’s wife Leena said he used to call her from jail using different WhatsApp numbers. She also said that Chandrasekhar often had parties during which he consumed alcohol, chicken and mutton which came from Hotel Taj.
According to the source, in order to get access to the luxuries, Chandrasekhar would “grease palms from top to bottom”. “He was given all facilities — from a phone to an office. Chandrasekhar while sitting in the jail used to contact car brokers, select cars and purchase them by arranging payments through banking channels as well as through cash,” the source said.
“He maintained a personal office in Tihar Jail, which was located above Chandra’s office. It was a well-furnished office and women visitors were allowed inside. In fact, officials in police uniform saluted these women while entering Tihar jail.”
These submissions have also been made in court.
Sandeep Goel, DGP, prisons, Delhi, told ThePrint that an investigation is on and the errant officials have been identified. “There were allegations of Sukesh using a phone inside Tihar Jail, in which we have taken action against prison officials. They have been arrested and further investigation is on,” he said.
The Economic Offences Wing had also written to the Tihar Jail administration beginning this year, stating that an investigation is needed against 82 employees of Rohini Jail who allegedly helped Chandrasekhar and took crores of rupees for providing him amenities.
The ED also told the court that two cars, a BMW and an Innova, were maintained by Chandrasekhar on Tihar Jail’s premises for “pick up and drop of his guests (sic)”.
The source said: “It was also found that he used to give cash and expensive gifts to these women visitors in his office located in Tihar Jail.”
When asked about women visitors coming to Tihar and Chandrasekhar using a personal office, Goel did not comment.
(Edited by Tony Rai)