With a supporting cast of 12 bodyguards and an expensive car fitted with a red beacon, he became a Tamil Nadu politician’s son. He walked into Taj Connemara in Chennai, brimming with confidence, only to stop in his tracks as he spotted Leena Paulose alias Leena Maria for the first time in 2010.
Trained as a dentist, Leena nursed ambitions of becoming an actor. Fresh off in a minor role in the Mohanlal-starrer Red Chillies (2009), she was impressed with Sukesh and his entourage. They began dating and the first seven months, their relationship hurtled ahead at breakneck speed. She was rubbing shoulders with the Chennai elite, famous actors and entertainers. Then one day, Sukesh vanished. All she got was a machine telling her that his phone was switched off.
A Class X dropout, Sukesh was born and raised in a middle-class family in Bhawani Nagar, Bengaluru. His father Vijayan Chandrashekhar, a part-time contractor allegedly duped a kitchen equipment dealer in 2010, with Sukesh’s help. He was arrested for the crime, and has passed away recently. Sukesh moved on to try his luck in the real-estate sector, and in turn found himself at the centre of the car-racing scene in Bengaluru where he “began seeing dreams of becoming a millionaire”.
For the next 10 years, Sukesh, 33, would make grandiose entrances posing as the son of powerful south-Indian politicians, charming his way into the lives of Bollywood actresses, courting them with luxury cars, chocolates, flowers and Franck Muller watches.
His first brush with crime began in 2017, after he allegedly cheated a Bengaluru-based resident of Rs 1.5 crore, with the promise of getting his land acquired by the Banglore Development Authority and developing an apartment with foreign investment. He would face a string of allegations over the next two years, including impersonating Karnataka politician Karunakaran Reddy’s son, duping multiple people under the pretext of selling them luxury cars.
Meanwhile, Leena had learnt that Sukesh was lodged in Madurai jail in a cheating case. When she met him for the first time in jail, he revealed his true name — Sukesh. Until then, she thought his name was Balaji. Five months later, Sukesh was released from prison and the couple moved to Bengaluru. While Leena travelled for her shoots, Sukesh made trips to Mumbai, boasting of making contacts with top Bollywood actors. Leena has featured in several films including a Malayalam comedy Husbands in Goa (2012), Tamil thriller Biriyani (2013) and John Abraham-starrer Madras Cafe (2013).
Soon though, Sukesh and Leena would “run an organised crime syndicate”, the ED chargesheet stated. The couple tied the knot in 2014. They would pose as an IAS officer and his secretary allegedly duping people under the pretext of selling government contracts and launching ponzi schemes.
By 2013-14, the couple had moved in together at Imperial Heights, Goregaon, Mumbai. But unknown to Leena, Sukesh had bought a separate apartment in the same building and was also “running parallel auditions for other actresses”. Sukesh then shifted to Delhi, since legal cases against him were mounting.
At the National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in Delhi’s Patiala House in 2021, Sukesh faced other allegations. This included extorting Rs 217 crore from Aditi Singh, the wife of former Fortis Healthcare promoter Shivinder Singh, under the pretext of helping her husband secure bail in a money-laundering case. Aditi had transferred the money through 10 entities owned by her family. She had to sell her children’s assets and take loans from relatives. This money was collected through cash payments by Sukesh’s aides and then routed through 53 shell companies through hawala channels. Investigators have alleged that Leena helped Sukesh dispose of proceeds of the crime by procuring bank entries from various entities and invested them in high-end cars, properties and into other businesses.
This case has unleashed a vortex which threatens to destroy the careers of Bollywood actors whose names have cropped up in the Directorate of Enforcement (ED) prosecution complaint (chargesheet) for allegedly enjoying proceeds of the crime. The ED officers believe that Sukesh had not only funded his extravagant lifestyle but also bought expensive gifts for these actors through the money he extorted from Aditi. All the actors have denounced him in court.
Actor Jacqueline Fernandez has been accused of accepting gifts from Sukesh, despite knowing his criminal history. She has now turned a witness in this Economic Offences Wing (EOW) case. Nora Fatehi’s name came up in the ED chargesheet after Sukesh tried to gift her a BMW car, which was subsequently gifted to her relative. He tried to coax her in many ways, just so that she would agree to be in a relationship with him.
She goes by different names — Angel, Aafreen and Alka. Her hair streaked blonde, wearing luxury sunglasses, she boasted an impressive resume — chief financial officer of Jaya TV and News Express, and owner of talent agencies in California, Dubai and Mumbai. Delhi Police officers claim that she is Pinky Irani, a former TV anchor, who is accused of introducing actors and models, to Sukesh, inside Tihar jail.
Pinky claimed to have been in touch with Sukesh since 2017-18 through Instagram. During this time, Sukesh would portray himself as a movie producer and wanted to open a talent agency. He offered her the position of chief managing director.
A 100-inch screen television almost as big as the room was meant to dazzle visitors. It was hooked to state-of-the-art gadgets including a PlayStation and an Apple Bluetooth speaker. The room was equipped with a sofa, recliner, an air conditioner, and a fridge stacked with wads of currency notes. Court records also show that Rolex watches were neatly laid out on a table along with Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Hermes bags.
At the centre of it all, draped in expensive clothes and watches stood Sukesh, now playing the part of the owner of a south-Indian channel, selling dreams of producing OTT shows to actors, who were allegedly brought by Pinky inside the jail premises. Sukesh told her to introduce him as one of India’s powerful fixers, with a net worth of US$ 10 billion. Pinky became Sukesh’s “personal shopper”, picking up bags from Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Hermes, expensive jewellery, flowers, clothes, chocolates, watches, a horse harness, saddle and a whip, the ED chargesheet stated.
The ED supplementary chargesheet states that Sukesh had set up an office inside the jail premises. It also named three actors who met Sukesh in jail — Chahatt Khanna, Nikki Tamboli and Sophia Singh. They were flown in from Mumbai and chauffeured in a BMW car from the Delhi airport to Tihar jail by Pinky. Chahatt, who featured in The Film (2005) and Ek Main Ek Tum (2005) and a television series Bade Acche Lagte Hain (2011), was told Sukesh was “the owner of a south-Indian channel” and “younger brother to politician Jayalalithaa”. Though these actors found it unsettling that the “office” was in Tihar jail, Pinky assured them that this was “a bureaucrat cell and he was officially allowed to meet people”.
When Chahatt walked into his first-floor office in Tihar, she saw Sukesh surrounded by gaming consoles, electronic gadgets and Hermes bags. He then claimed to make phone calls to Bollywood actors “boasting about his connections”. Sukesh claimed he had tapped her husband’s phone, knew about his whereabouts and then proposed to her. “He proposed to me to get married to him and said that my life would be way better,” Chahatt told the ED. She was given Rs 2 lakh in cash and a blue Versace watch for meeting him.
Meanwhile Nikki, who appeared in a few Telugu movies and was a participant in the reality show Big Boss, met Sukesh in April 2018. He told her that he was married, was a “big guy and a big producer” and then began boasting that he “had over 100 girlfriends”. The second time they met, Sukesh asked her to update her bio on Instagram to “in a relationship” and post a picture of a bag he gifted her. The ED chargesheet claims she received around Rs 3.5 lakh for meeting him.
Sophia was approached by Pinky, claiming that Sukesh wanted to sign her for a “big banner south-Indian film”. Known for roles in Ae Kaash Ke Hum (2020) and 22 Days (2018), she first met Sukesh in May 2018. As she walked into the office in Tihar she saw two police officials standing guard. Inside, Sukesh, who sported a cropped haircut and a beard, promised to sign her up for a film. She was given Rs 3.5 lakh and a Louis Vuitton bag for meeting him twice. In these meetings, Sukesh convinced the women that he was in jail over a political rivalry and would be released on bail soon.
Court records show that Sukesh had also tried to send gifts to other Bollywood actors — Janhvi Kapoor, Sara Ali Khan and Bhumi Pednekar.
Janhvi, through her authorised representative, said that she was never contacted by Sukesh or Pinky. However, she was contacted by Leena, who asked her to inaugurate her salon in Bengaluru on 19 July, 2021. Janhvi received a payment of Rs 18.94 lakh as professional fees. On the day of the event, she was gifted a Christian Dior bag by Leena’s mother, she told the ED. Sara too, said that she did not know anyone by the name of Sukesh, but “someone under the name of Suraj Reddy did WhatsApp her on 21 May, 2021, wherein he said that he would like to gift her a car as a family gesture.” While she refused gifts from him, she did agree on a box of chocolates, which came with a Franck Muller watch.
Pinky had contacted Bhumi too, who submitted to the ED that from January to July, 2021, Pinky posed as the vice-president (human resource) of News Express. She was told that her group’s chairman (Sukesh) “was a fan and wanted to speak with her about a huge project and also wanted to gift her a car.” Bhumi denied receiving any gifts from Sukesh or any personal interaction.
Jacqueline, a former Sri Lankan beauty queen, began her stint in Bollywood with the 2009-film Aladin. In it, the main lead Ritesh Deshmukh takes the help of a genie to impress Jacqueline, who played the role of a foreign-exchange student. She would go on to bag big projects, getting an opportunity to work with several high-profile stars. So it was no surprise that she refused to take calls from Sukesh, who posed as Shekhar Ratna Vela, “her biggest fan”. He kept calling her from December 2020 to January 2021.
Her make-up artist Shaan Muttathil was approached by Pinky. They met at JW Marriott at Mumbai where she asked him to introduce Sukesh to Jacqueline, but nothing materialised. A spoofed phone call from Home Minister Amit Shah’s office changed everything. The ED chargesheet claims that Sukesh impersonated the Ministry of Home Affairs official, asking Shaan to get in touch with Sukesh, who was a “very important person in the government”.
Numbers were exchanged and Jacqueline began speaking to Sukesh. He introduced himself as the owner of Sun TV, belonging to Jayalalithaa. He wanted to gift her a Bentley. She thought it was a prank and did not speak to him for a month. But Sukesh kept pushing, this time claiming he was the owner of coal mines, had acquired Kalyan Jewellers, and had worked with the Indian government on an arms deal with Russia, the chargesheet stated. Then Sukesh told Jacqueline that Malabar Jewellers wanted to make her their brand ambassador. The chargesheet stated that Sukesh sent Rs 15 lakh to her.
And the gifts kept coming. Sukesh sent Jacqueline limited-edition perfumes, Veen Water, flowers, chocolates, designer bags, diamond earrings and bracelets. He once even sent her a Mini Cooper, which she returned, the investigators said. In total, the investigators found that Sukesh gifted Jacqueline five watches, 20 pieces of jewellery, 65 pairs of shoes, 47 clothing items, 36 bags, 9 paintings and a Versace crockery set.
However, Valentine’s Day in 2021 was harsh for Sukesh. The ED states that Shaan had shared a news article on Sukesh’s criminal history with Jacqueline. “Around this time, Sukesh began showering her with gifts. He had promised Irani Rs 10 crore to sort out differences between them. She (Jacqueline) knew that he had a criminal past and yet enjoyed the proceeds of crime. She could have easily verified Sukesh’s claims on Google,” says an ED officer.
Sukesh also bought Jacqueline a horse named Espuela, from Mahalaxmi Racecourse in Mumbai for Rs 57 lakh, and four cats. She finally met him in person for the first time, after he invited her to attend his uncle’s funeral in Chennai in June 2021, and later in July. They spent their time driving around the city as two Range Rovers packed with 15 bodyguards followed them. Sukesh also arranged a private jet twice in Kerala and paid for her hotel stay. He also donated to her private charity. The ED investigators have claimed that Jacqueline received Rs 7.12 crore as proceeds of crime from Sukesh. He also paid a scriptwriter Rs 15 lakh to write a television show for her, sent US $172,913 to her sister in the US to purchase a BMW car, bought a Porsche and Maserati for her parents in Bahrain, and sent 26,740 AUD to her brother in Australia.
However, tensions ensued between the two. Pinky tried to broker peace between them and got Jacqueline a Tiffany’s diamond ring with the initials J&S on it, the chargesheet said.
Jacqueline told the ED that Sukesh became increasingly possessive and began interfering with her work. She also grew suspicious because he never introduced her to his family. But since Sukesh was initially good to her and her friends, she “was trying to reform him and did not want to judge him on his past actions.”
Jacqueline’s lawyer Prashant Patil maintains that “truth shall precipitate to the surface” claiming she was conned by Sukesh. Pinky’s lawyer, RK Handoo, asks why his client has not been made a witness in this case as she was also duped by Sukesh under the pretext of an editor’s job.
Sukesh’s lawyer Anant Malik, meanwhile, says that the co-accused are “playing the victim card” and the allegations are “nothing but irrelevant noise”. Leena’s lawyer said that the high-end car purchased was backed by legitimate transactions, adding, “she has not been in touch with her family.”
Currently, DG Prisons Sanjay Beniwal has his work cut out for him. Over 80 prison staff were booked for taking bribes from Sukesh, when he was lodged in Rohini jail. “Sukesh has the gift of the gab. When you have a tough customer like him, the best way forward is to go with what the law says. Our reputation did take a hit because we did not do our job properly. We are trying to get the system back on track,” he says.
He has been busy organising training workshops for jail staff, organising raids to clamp down on mobile phone use and ironing out loopholes that can be used to corrupt jail staffers.
As the case unfolds, Sukesh, who is lodged at Mandoli Jail, Delhi, along with his wife, spends most of his time reading newspapers and writing letters to the media.