One of the earliest stories of confidence trickery by serial conman Sukesh Chandrashekhar is from his early days in Bengaluru, where he grew up. Then a 17-year-old, he is known to have carried around with him a forged letter of the Bengaluru police commissioner declaring that the teenager was eligible to drive cars and bikes anywhere in Karnataka.
That was in 2006, around the time he dropped out of Class 10. Since then, the boy who liked fast cars has gone full throttle, pulling off a series of jaw-dropping frauds, impersonating everyone from the son of a former chief minister to CBI officers, senior police officers, officials in the Prime Minister’s Office and those in high-profile Union ministries, and even a Supreme Court judge. Many of his audacious acts of extortion have been carried out from jail — Sukesh has had a continuous jail stint since 2017, when he was arrested for allegedly taking money from AIADMK rebel T T V Dinakaran to bribe an Election Commission official.
Now, as he is entangled in a mesh of overlapping cases being probed by the Delhi Police and the Enforcement Directorate, Sukesh, who has at least 30 FIRs to his name, is again eliciting attention for the probe into how he splurged his allegedly ill-gotten wealth on a bevy of small-time Bollywood actors and celebrities, including Jacqueline Fernandes and Nora Fatehi, who are turning up for questioning in cases linked to him.
Sukesh alias Balaji alias Shekhar Reddy was 17 when he was first arrested by the Bangalore Police in August 2007, after he had claimed a friendship with the son of JD(S) leader and then chief minister H D Kumaraswamy to allegedly cheat a family friend, Subramani, 76, of Rs 1.14 crore while promising to retrieve a plot from the custody of the Bangalore Development Authority, the government-run planning body.
Police say he splashed the money on a house to host his parties, among other things. They also recovered a BMW, a Nissan, a Toyota Corolla, a Honda City, a Honda Accord, 12 high-end watches, six cellphones, including one that cost Rs 3.40 lakh, a 50-inch LCD television set, gold ornaments and designer clothes.
“The boy used to come in a Honda V-Tec and hang around the drag racers in Bengaluru,” says an acquaintance of Sukesh from his teenage days. “Once, at a coffee shop in south Bangalore, I heard him telling someone that he could ensure admissions in a certain school since he was the son of the owner of the school. I was shocked to hear this because my mother ran the school,” he says.
D Devaraja, a former deputy commissioner of police in Bengaluru who headed a team that nabbed Sukesh in April 2011 — in a case of allegedly cheating dozens of businessmen in Tamil Nadu by posing as a secretary to then Karnataka CM B S Yediyurappa and promising government contracts in return for bribes — says, “Sukesh Chandrasekhar has a fixation for high-end cars and a high life that can be traced to his school days.”
According to police sources, the fascination for cars and driving has its origins in Sukesh’s school days at a premier school in Bengaluru, where many of his schoolmates arrived in fancy cars while Chandrashekhar, who hailed from a lower middle-class family, was dropped off at school by his father, a contractor, part-time mechanic and sales man of automobile spare parts.
As many as eight luxury cars seized by Income Tax authorities during investigations linked to Sukesh’s activities have been lying on the premises of the Karnataka wing of the IT department since November 2017. The eight luxury cars (a Lamborghini, Porsche Cayenne, Bentley, Range Rover, Rolls Royce, BMW, Jaguar, a Toyota Land Cruiser) and a Ducati motorcycle, were seized following investigations into an alleged Rs 50-crore bribery deal. The case — the first that catapulted him to the big league of conmen — involved Sukesh, then in Tihar jail, allegedly striking a deal with a faction of the AIADMK, led by V K Sasikala and her nephew T T V Dhinakaran, by assuring them that he would influence Election Commission officials and get them the ‘two leaves’ symbol of the party ahead of the keenly contested R K Nagar by-polls in Chennai. The election was subsequently shelved and the investigation led to Sukesh’s door.
But by then, Sukesh had been arrested multiple times and released on bail, including in 2009, around the time he met Leena Maria Paul, later his wife and co-accused in several of his frauds.
Police say that when Sukesh was arrested in 2011 — in the case where he posed as a secretary to Yediyurappa — it was Leena who helped track him down. The arrest led to a temporary break-up, but the couple were soon back together and moved to Kochi. However, they were forced to leave the city in 2012 after a textile group filed a cheating case against him. Sukesh had taken Rs 20 lakh from the Kochi-based Emmanuel Silks, promising to bring actress Katrina Kaif for a promotional programme.
Sukesh’s parents Chandrashekhar and Mala too had been arrested with him in 2007 and 2011 in cheating cases.
Next, in 2013, Sukesh was arrested in Kolkata and Leena in Delhi for cheating a business couple and a branch of the Canara Bank in Chennai to the tune of Rs 19 crore after claiming to be officials from the Karnataka government interested in a sanitary napkin dispensation machine which the couple’s firm Future, Techniks Pvt Ltd, had pioneered.
Sukesh and Maria allegedly convinced the couple that they would be awarded a Rs-132 crore contract for dispensing sanitary napkins around Karnataka if they made an initial investment of Rs 19 crore. The Chennai couple obtained a loan from the Canara Bank and transferred the funds to private accounts indicated by Sukesh, who had been posing as a Karnataka-cadre IAS officer. The couple cleaned out Rs 12 crore before the fraud was detected.
However, the big unravelling of Sukesh happened in 2021, when former Fortis Healthcare promoter Shivinder Singh’s wife Aditi Singh lodged an FIR with the Delhi Police, alleging that she was cheated of Rs 200 crore by a man posing as the “law secretary”, who promised to help with her husband’s cases if she contribute to the “party fund”.
She also alleged the man again called from a landline — which the Truecaller app displayed as the number of a senior official of the Prime Minister’s Office — and asked her to visit the party office or North Block to meet the former law minister or the current Home Minister.
Even for someone who had pulled off the most audacious of stunts, this one hit Sukesh hard.
A case of extortion and impersonation was registered with the Special Cell and he was arrested from inside Rohini jail, where he was then lodged. Police later transferred the case to the Economic Offence Wing (EOW) and made more arrests, including of Rohini jail officials, and added sections of the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).
While he carried out this seemingly impossible stunt, Sukesh lived it up inside jail, allegedly paying Rs 1.5 crore every month for a separate barrack and getting to freely use mobile phones. Based on documents, facts and evidence collected during the probe, the Delhi Police concluded that the money was paid as bribe to all staff, irrespective of their duties, to ensure they remained silent. An FIR was registered against Sukesh and 82 jail staff, and eight jail officials were arrested.
A smooth talker, Sukesh is known to glide into conversations in any of the south Indian languages, Hindi and English.
Police officers in Tamil Nadu who have probed Sukesh describe him as a mild-mannered man. “Such a soft-spoken man. You won’t believe that he is into such crimes,” said a senior police officer who has investigated several cases involving Sukesh and Leena since 2012.
He has allegedly conned over 100 people, including poultry farmers, underwear manufacturers, pressure cooker makers, bank executives, parking systems makers, kitchen equipment makers and a dry fruits packaging firm by claiming to be a middleman for government contracts.
“He would rarely meet his targets in person,” says the former Bengaluru DCP Devaraj (who is now the SP of the Kolar district) about Sukesh’s modus operandi.
“He would look up government contracts and companies on the Internet and then make his approach over the telephone,” said a police official adding that Sukesh used spoofing, a technique that involves the masking of the caller’s phone number with a number of choice.
“Sukesh would push his victims into a corner, saying the contracts are set to be finalised by the end of the day. He would promise to fill in tender documents for a commission and approach the businessmen for larger amounts to deliver on the contracts. His girlfriend would call in between, pretending to be his secretary. Once money was transferred to specifically created bank accounts, they would vanish,” the official added.
A senior Enforcement Directorate official, who has been part of raids carried out at Chandrasekhar’s luxury beach-front mansion on East Coast Road in Chennai in August last year, says the team was stunned at what they saw.
“I have been to many palatial homes for searches, but this mansion was something else. The amount of money and attention that had gone into designing the interiors was unbelievable. We weren’t able to estimate the price of lights and lamps when we tried to trace them online later. Seemingly expensive artifacts such as paintings, sculptures and art works in brass and silver… There was a horse head made in copper, an installation of a racing car inside the house, and a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR with an engraving of ‘722’, a tribute to the iconic car that Sir Stirling Moss drove in his famous 1955 Mille Miglia race,” said an officer.
In the past, Sukesh has allegedly masqueraded as a grandson of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, as the son-in-law of former Union minister M K Alagiri, and as the son of several political leaders and bureaucrats such as former Union minister T R Baalu, former Tamil Nadu finance minister K Anbazhagan, former Karnataka minister Karunakara Reddy and former Karnataka chief secretary Sudhakar Rao, and as a nephew of former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y S Rajashekhar Reddy.
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Since 2007, Sukesh’s crime graph has spanned the cities of Bengaluru, Chennai, Coimbatore, New Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai.
“Sukesh Chandrashekhar has created a web through his devious mechanism. He is a master con man and with technology at his disposal he could execute to perfection his plan. He accessed a mobile phone, got it recharged, generated virtual numbers, downloaded apps to spoof calls, modulated his voice, even used technology to pretend that different personalities were calling the victim to weave a web of lies so as to ensure that the victim could not wriggle out. His knack was to gather information from all plausible sources, be it open sources, deep / dark web, family and his dalliances with the jail authorities to impress the victim and create a fear to extort money,” the ED stated in its first chargesheet against Chandrashekhar last year.
A senior police officer in Chennai said despite the staggering breadth of Sukesh’s frauds, he has never had to try too hard. “His skill, craft and success was all about his deep understanding about how Indian politics, governments and the judiciary work. He was someone with an eye for the vulnerabilities of the Indian system, be it corrupt politicians, ambitious celebrities or crony industrialists. He is not just a conman but someone with a deep understanding of how India works.”