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Monday, June 27, 2022

‘Swindler’s’ race to the fast life

Tracking the life of fugitive Sukesh Chandraskehar and his love affair with Leena Maria Paul.

Written by Shaju Philip |
June 10, 2013 1:00:05 am

Johnson T A,Gopu Mohan & Shaju Philip track the life and alleged confidence tricks of fugitive Sukesh Chandraskehar across several states,and his now-on,now-off love affair with struggling actress Leena Maria Paul

A former participant in Bangalore’s underground nightly drag racing circuit has a vague memory of a boy called Suki from 2006-07. The teenager would hang around the periphery with various types of cars but was rarely allowed into the drag circuit,since a lot of older people had reservations about where he was sourcing those vehicles from.

Suki is now notorious as the car-loving,high-living,Sukesh Chandrasekhar alias Balaji alias Shekhar Reddy,23,alleged cheat and boyfriend of Tamil,Malayalam and Hindi actress Leena Maria Paul. She was arrested recently from a Delhi farmhouse where the couple had been hidingm while he is on the run. Long before they met,Sukesh had been leading people and police in multiple states on a merry dance with his alleged confidence trickery,starting from the age of 17.

“The boy used to come around in a Honda V-Tec and hang around,” says the former racing participant. “Once,at a coffee shop in south Bangalore,this kid told 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. We realised then that he was a con.”

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He was 17 when he was first arrested by the Bangalore police in August 2007,after he had claimed a friendship with the son of then chief minister H D Kumaraswamy and cheated a family friend,Subramani,76,of Rs 1.14 crore the previous year. He splashed the money on a house for parties,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.

In the last six years,Sukesh has allegedly masqueraded as a grandson of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi,the son-in-law of Karunanidhi’s son and former union minister M K Alagiri,a 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,a nephew of Y S Rajashekhar Reddy,and a secretary of B S Yeddyurappa,apart from presenting a friend as Kumaraswamy’s son.

Suresh was also arrested in 2009 and 2011,each time released on bail. It was the actress who helped police arrest him in 2011,but she was found to have returned to him after his release on bail. Police now believe she was an accomplice in some of his confidence tricks,as were Sukesh’s parents Chandrashekhar and Mala,now 63 and 54,who had been arrested with him in 2007 and 2011.

As they look out for him,police officers in Bangalore and Chennai say a clear identification is that he has only the thumb in his left hand,having lost the four fingers in an accident.

EARLY AMBITIONS

“Sukesh Chandrasekhar has some kind of a fixation with high-end cars and a high life that can be traced to his schooldays,” says D Devaraja,the deputy commissioner of police (crime) in Bangalore who,as an assistant commissioner,spearheaded a police team that nabbed Sukesh in April 2011 for cheating dozens of businessmen in Tamil Nadu by posing as a secretary in then Karnataka chief minister Yeddyurappa’s office and promising government contracts.

“His father used to drop him to school on a scooter while most of his classmates came in high-end cars,” says Devaraja.

It was a high-end English school in Bangalore. The father was a rubber contractor,part-time mechanic and automobile spare part service man. The son dropped out in class X around 2006,and his life since seems to have been inspired by fast cars and movies such as the Fast and Furious series.

Even before he was 18 and eligible for a driving licence,police say,he had forged the signature of the then police commissioner to create a letter dated April 2006 declaring that he is allowed to drive cars and bikes “full throttle” anywhere in Karnataka.

DCP Devaraja says there are currently 13 cases pending against Sukesh in Karnataka,Tamil Nadu,Andhra Pradesh and Haryana. 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 packaged dates firm of over Rs 30 crore in six years.

“He would rarely meet his targets in person,” says Devaraja. “He would look up government contracts and companies on the Internet and then make his approach over the telephone. He would push his victims into a corner,saying contracts are set to be finalised by the end of the day,would promise to fill in tender documents for a commission,and then approach them for larger amounts to get 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.”

He moved out of Bangalore after the 2007 arrest and release on bail,and began working in Tamil Nadu,Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. He splashed Rs 2.5 lakh per month on a flat in upmarket Jubilee Hills bungalow in Hyderabad,rented high-end cars at Rs 25 lakh a month,and also employed armed private security guards.

His targets would be dazzled by the visible signs of riches,the beacon on his vehicle,and his supposed influence in power corridors. He talked glibly into an any southern language,as well as Hindi and English.

“He would look like a big shot to anyone who doesn’t know how easy it is to anyone to arrange these things,” says R Vasunthara,assistant commissioner of police (bank fraud wing) in Tamil Nadu’s central crime branch.

He has a sound understanding of the working of contracts,tendering systems and hierarchy in government and the role powerful people can play in procurements. Police say he was helped by his father’s knowledge of opening new bank accounts.

The actress

On her left hand,there is a rather large tattoo of a Holy Cross. Concealed under that is an older ink job that reads “Balaji”.

Born and brought up in Dubai to parents hailing from Thrissur,Leena Maria Paul did a dental sciences course in bangalore. She dreamt of making it big in movies,but got only minor roles in Malayalam films Red Chillies (in which she debuted in 2009 as one of nine performers in an-all girl band),Husbands in Goa and Kobra.

She also anchored a programme,Life Style Plus,on Amrita TV and appeared in local commercials. A few years ago,she participated in the Navy Queen contest in Kochi.

Shaji Kailas,director of Red Chillies,says Leena was introduced by a member of his production unit. He remembers her as someone unwilling to talk about herself,particular about wearing costumes she had bought from home,and insistent about staying in a luxurious hotel. As for her performance,Kailas says,there was little to talk about.

According to Association of Malayalam Movie Artiste general secretary Edavela Babu,Leena could not even be considered an actress. “We cannot even call her a person associated with the Malayalam film industry,” says Babu.

Then she met Sukesh sometime in 2009-10. According to what she has reportedly told the police,Leena received a call one day from a man who introduced himself as Balaji,supposedly a leading money man in the Tamil film industry. He reportedly told her he had seen her photographs,expressed his wish to cast her in his next film,and wanted to meet in person.

She went to Chennai,where she met the young man who was accompanied by another man,named Mahendran. Sukesh reportedly told her he was to produce a Tamil film in which Mahendran would be the hero and that Leena has been chosen to play the female lead. “He had come in a luxury car that had a red beacon and other paraphernalia,which fooled her into thinking that he was a VIP,” says an official.

The love story

BY the time she realised there was no film project,they had become close,police say. “They visited each other frequently,and even lived together,” says assistant commissioner Vasunthara.

“But once,when she could not reach him despite repeated attempts,she contacted Mahendran,who told her Balaji was in prison in Chennai,” Vasunthara adds. “Leena learned her lover’s name was not Balaji but Sukesh Chandrasekar,leading to a break-up. But that was only temporary.”

The subsequent arrest of Sukesh in April 2011 was,in fact,on information provided by Leena after he had cheated Tamil Nadu businessmen while posing as an secretary in the office of Yeddyurappa and a complaint of cheating was received in the chief minister’s office. The Bangalore police had tracked Leena down on the basis of phone records of calls made to the businessmen and questioned her. Leena directed them to Mahendran,which eventually led to Sukesh being arrested once again.

“She claimed at that time that she too had been cheated by a man posing as the grandson of Karunanidhi who had promised her roles in the movies and had helped in the investigation of the case,” says DCP Devaraja. No case was registered in 2011 against Leena.

After his arrest,she moved back to Kerala. Sukesh got bail within three months. Though she changed her SIM cards,he traced her in Thrissur and reportedly pleaded with her to come back to him. She eventually did.

Officials say she went on to become closer than ever to him,becoming pregnant with his child which she had to abort. He too was reportedly attached to her,and has her name tattooed on his hand,she has reportedly told the police.

While in Kerala,it is believed Sukesh used her for contacts with film celebrities. Both of them stayed in Kochi till 2012,when Chandrasekhar was forced to leave after a textile group filed a cheating case against him.

He had taken Rs 20 lakh from the Kochi-based Emmanuel Silks,promising that he would bring in actress Katrina Kaif for a promotional programme. Its MD T O Baiju said Sukesh brought Telugu star Allu Arjun for their inauguration of their showroom in Kottayam. “He won our confidence and promised to get Kaif. Later,we complained the police,but they could not track him down,’’ said Baiju.

Between that escape and Leena’s arrest in Delhi came other instances of alleged swindling. And this time,police believe,Leena too was involved.

‘Partners in crime’

Tamil Nadu police cite a Rs 19 crore fraud where Sukesh cheated the authorities of a nationalised bank and an entrepreneur couple,who too have been arrested for the way their deal was transacted.

Chitra and her husband M Balasubramanian,running Future Techiniks Pvt Ltd,have reportedly told the police they were contacted by an “official” from Karnataka seeking details about their sanitary napkin machine in connection with a free napkin scheme of that government. They were given a Bangalore landline number for an area near the assembly. When Balasubramanian called,a “secretary” (believed to be Leena) confirmed it was the office of the official and connected the line.

Balasubramanian was told that his company could be awarded an order worth Rs 132 crore,but for that he had to raise Rs 19 crore. The entrepreneur,who had an account with the Ambattur branch of Canara Bank,approached chief manager (SME) V Jagadeesha (now arrested) with a request for an overdraft. The manager,who is authorised to sanction only up to Rs 1.50 crore as overdraft,arranged and helped transfer the money to Mumbai-based accounts of private banks.

Noticing the transaction as suspicious,senior officials of the bank probed these. Based on a complaint filed by deputy general manager S Nallasivam on March 19,the bank fraud wing of the central crime branch began investigation and froze the account that night itself. But by then,Rs 12 crore had been withdrawn.

Soon after Leena’s arrest in Delhi,another complaint surfaced against the couple,this time from a textile businessman called Chakravarty who said he had been promised a contract to provide cloth for government uniforms.

“Sukesh cheated Leena and then they fell in love,which is perfectly understandable,” says Vasunthara. “But how would she explain the role she played in cheating Chakravarty where she posed as the bureaucrat’s secretary? We have found a woman played a similar role in the bank fraud case,too. She has not accepted her role in the cheating,but we have not found any other woman who was close to him.”

Officials say Leena had given up her efforts to change Chandrasekharan long ago,and became part of his schemes for the riches these fetched.

“She enjoyed the sophisticated life,wearing expensive cloths and jewels,and the attention all this fetched,” says an official. “He was no different,going by the luxury cars,watches and other items that we have recovered from the Delhi farmhouse where they had been hiding.”

Vasunthara says investigations were hit when Sukesh gave them the slip in Delhi. Since then,he has been changing SIM cards and mobile handsets,making it difficult to trace him. “But we have some information which we are verifying to track him. We are at it now,” she adds.

FROM THE FILES

What police in three states have to say of Sukesh Chandasekhar

POSED AS

M Karunanidhi’s grandson; M K Alagiri’s sone-in-law; T R Baalu’s,K Anbazhagan’s,Karunakara Reddy’s and former Karnataka chief secretary Sudhakar Rao’s son; YSR Reddy’s nephew; B S Yeddyurappa’s secretary

FIRST ARREST

Poses as a friend of the son of then chief minister of Karnataka H D Kumaraswamy and cheats a 76-year-old man,a family friend,of Rs 1.14 crore by promising access to a property taken over by the government. Sukesh,then 17,splashes it on a house,cars and various luxuries

DRIVING LICENCE

Before turning 18,forges the signature of then police commissioner to create a letter dated April 2006 declaring that he is allowed to drive cars and bikes “full throttle” anywhere in Karnataka

TAMIL NADU

Arrested by Bangalore police in April 2011 for cheating dozens of businessmen in Tamil Nadu by posing as a secretary in then chief minister B S Yeddyurappa’s office and promising government contracts. Leena Maria Paul helps provide information

KATRINA KAIF

Pockets Rs 20 lakh from Kochi-based Emmanuel Silks,promising he would bring Katrina Kaif for a promotional programme. First brings Telugu star Allu Arjun,winning the company’s confidence. Flees Kerala in 2012 after complaint

PACKAGED DATES

P Ponnudorai,managing director of Lion Dates in Karnataka,complains in 2013 that he received a call from a man identifying himself as IAS officer Jayakumar (joint secretary to Karnataka chief minister) who said the government was keen to purchase five lakh dates in 500 gm packs per month for one year in a contract worth Rs 7 crore. The company remitted Rs 80,000 in Andhra Bank,Kengeri branch. The cheats then asked for Rs 2.5 lakh; when more details sought,the calls stopped

CANARA BANK

Couple contacted by an ‘official’ from Karnataka and promised a contract of Rs 132 crore if they can raise Rs 19 crore. Leena suspected to have answered calls as “secretary”. Couple approaches Canara Bank for overdraft,money transferred to Mumbai-based accounts of private banks,Rs 12 crore withdrawn. Couple and bank official arrested for irregular transaction

UNIFORM CONTRACT

Chakravarty,a textile businessman who had been promised a contract to provide cloth for uniforms,complains about a woman “secretary” he had negotiated with

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