New Delhi: Sri Lankan actor Jacqueline Fernandez has been in a soup ever since the Enforcement Directorate (ED) tagged her as a witness and possible “beneficiary” of a Rs 200-crore money laundering racket, allegedly run by one Sukesh Chandrasekhar.
The chargesheet mentions that the actor received many extravagant gifts, worth up to Rs 10 crore, from the conman, who has been in jail since 2017. Images of Fernandez with Chandrasekhar, when he was out on bail earlier this year, have also gone viral.
Last Sunday, Fernandez was stopped from boarding a flight to Muscat from Mumbai airport after the ED issued a lookout circular (LOC) for her. She was then summoned to Delhi, where she appeared before the ED for questioning Wednesday. She has appeared for questioning in a money laundering case involving Chandrasekhar on earlier occasions too.
The 7,000-page chargesheet mentions that Chandrasekhar gave Fernandez an Arabian horse worth Rs 52 lakh, three Persian cats that cost about Rs 9 lakh each, diamond sets, and other gifts. He also paid for chartered flights, and police sources said the ED has traced some financial transactions to Fernandez’s siblings. A source told ThePrint that Chandrasekhar has also boasted about giving Fernandez an island.
Actor Nora Fatehi has also been mentioned in the chargesheet, since Chandrasekhar has claimed to the ED that he had gifted her a BMW car.
Who is this alleged conman and how did Bollywood celebrities get entangled in the investigation? ThePrint explains the trail of cases and how jail staff allegedly facilitated the extortion racket.
Bollywood stars were ‘ultimate beneficiaries’
Chandrasekhar’s lawyer Anant Malik told ThePrint that his client, who is married, and Jacqueline Fernandez were romantically involved. “Sukesh and Jacqueline were in a relationship for a good seven or eight months until he was arrested again in the extortion case,” Malik said. The lawyer had also claimed earlier that both Fernandez and Fatehi were the “ultimate beneficiaries” in the case and “that is why they are being called for questioning”.
Fatehi has said she was a “victim” and only met Chandrasekhar and his wife, Leena Maria Paul, during an event. Fernandez has also vociferously denied the allegations and “slander” directed at her.
“Jacqueline Fernandez is being called to testify as a witness by the ED. She has duly recorded her statements and in future will also be completely cooperating with the agency in the investigations. Jacqueline also categorically denies alleged slanderous statements made about the relationship with the involved couple,” a spokesperson for Fernandez has told the media.
The latest photo of Jacqueline with Chandrasekhar, according to reports, is from the April-June period, when he was out on bail.
Jail ‘headquarters’ for a criminal enterprise
Chandrasekhar, 32, has been in jail since 2017, but that hasn’t stopped him from allegedly exploring new criminal opportunities, albeit behind bars, in the years since then.
The man from Bengaluru came into the spotlight in 2017, when the crime branch arrested him in connection with the Election Commission bribery case. Chandrasekhar had allegedly acted as a middleman for AIADMK leader T.T.V. Dhinakaran, the nephew of J. Jayalalithaa’s aide V.K. Sasikala, who wanted the EC to give him a favourable order for his petition regarding the “two leaves” election symbol (which has been a centrepiece of factional squabbling in the party). Dhinakaran allegedly paid Chandrasekhar Rs 50 crore to get bribe EC officials. On 26 April 2017, the police arrested Chandrasekhar, but his wheeling and dealing is said to have continued.
While he was lodged in jail, Chandrasekhar allegedly formed a fresh extortion racket with the help of his wife (Madras Café actor Leena Paul), other high-profile inmates, and even jail staff. In this venture, Chandrasekhar and his accomplices allegedly extorted Rs 200 crore from the family of former Fortis Healthcare and Ranbaxy promoters Malvinder and Shivinder Singh, who went through of a downfall of their own in 2019 for financial fraud. Chandrasekhar allegedly posed as Anoop Kumar, the law secretary of India, and promised to help with the cases in exchange for money.
The Delhi Police Special Cell lodged an FIR against Chandrasekhar on the basis of the complaint filed by Shivinder Singh’s wife, Aditi Singh, who said she received several calls over 2020 and 2021 from the defrauders on WhatsApp and Telegram. According to sources in the Delhi Police, Chandrasekhar used two numbers — one from Delhi and one from Israel— and spoofing tech to make the calls. Several phones were seized from him.
The 2 November chargesheet of the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the Delhi Police said 14 people were involved in the racket. It also noted that Chandrasekhar had unlimited access to mobile phones and other amenities not available to most inmates of Tihar Jail. The charge sheet alleges that Chandrasekhar spent lakhs in bribing jail staff, who have now been suspended and arrested, including deputy jail superintendent D.S. Meena. According to the police, Meena received crores of funds from co-accused Deepak and Pradeep Ramnani, and then disbursed them to other jail officials in order to facilitate smooth operations for the racket. Meena also spent hours in his office with Chandrasekhar, the charge sheet alleged.
Chandrasekhar, Leena Paul, and the other accused allegedly used hawala channels to transfer the extorted amounts into about 53 shell companies. The ED has seized as many as 16 luxury and sports cars — including a Rolls Royce, a Bentley, a Ferrari, and a Lamborghini — and a slew of expensive designer goods from Chandrasekhar’s sea-facing Chennai bungalow. Chandrasekhar allegedly also made investments in cryptocurrency.
The Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) has been invoked against Chandrasekhar, who already has over 19 FIRs (under-trial cases according to police records) lodged against him for duping people across several states.
Movie buff, car fanatic, impersonator
Sukesh Chandrasekhar was born into a lower middle-class family in Bengaluru, Karnataka, but started aiming for the big time from an early age. According to the police, he dropped out of school when he was in Class 10 and, by the time he was 17, he was already conning people to make money, usually by impersonating other people. Sources said that the movie buff and “car fanatic” was always fixated on living a “dreamy and luxurious” life.
Delhi Police sources told ThePrint that Chandrasekhar is “highly connected and tech-savvy” and can “lure anyone”, but the conman also has a long history of being nabbed by the police.
The first case against him was lodged in 2007, when he allegedly posed as a friend of the son of then-Karnataka CM H.D. Kumaraswamy and cheated an old family friend out of Rs 1.14 crore. He used the money on cars, watches, jewellery, and a TV set. As a teen, he had also allegedly forged the signature of the then-Karnataka Police Commissioner to attain a driver’s licence, an Indian Express report from 2013 states.
In the years that followed, he allegedly cheated multiple businesspeople claiming to be the secretary of former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa. In Kerala, he allegedly extracted Rs 20 lakh from the Kochi-based Emmanuel Silks with promises of getting actor Katrina Kaif for an event. He also once posed as the grandson of M. Karunanidhi, and the son of DMK leader T.R. Baalu, among other politicians and bureaucrats.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)