Dior and diamonds: why Jacqueline Fernandez is being accused in a money laundering case

Indian authorities say the Bollywood actress received gifts cash and gifts amounting to $900,000

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Ever since she was named as a witness in an investigation into the crimes of Indian conman Sukesh Chandrasekhar in August last year, Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Things came to a head in December when the actress was stopped from boarding a plane at a Mumbai airport by India's Enforcement Directorate, which investigates financial crimes.

Fernandez, who has been questioned by the agency several times since, was on Wednesday named as co-accused in a 2 billion rupees money laundering case against Chandrasekhar. It is only one of many crimes Chandrasekhar is accused of committing and is supplementary to an extortion scam masterminded by him.

Money was laundered to various sources, many of them allegedly benefitting Fernandez, the Enforcement Directorate said in their charge.

Chandrasekhar, who is married to South Indian actress Leena Maria Paul, is believed to have been in a relationship with Fernandez, but the actress' team earlier denied it.

"Jacqueline categorically denies alleged slanderous statements made about the relationship with the involved couple,” Fernandez's team said in October last year.

But in January, after intimate photos of Chandrasekhar and Fernandez were leaked on the internet, the actress was forced to make a statement, pleading with the media to not invade her privacy.

“The country and its people have always given me tremendous love and respect," Fernandez, who is from Sri Lanka, posted on Instagram. "This includes my friends from the media, from whom I have learnt a lot. I’m currently going through a rough patch but I’m sure that my friends and fans will see me through it.

"It is with this trust that I would request my media friends to not circulate images of a nature that intrude [on] my privacy and personal space. You would not do this to your own loved ones, am sure you would not do this to me either."

Chandrasekhar also addressed the leak, decrying the media's vilification of Fernandez. In a note said to be written by him from prison and seen by The Times of India, the conman confirmed his relationship with Fernandez but absolved her of any crime.

"Jacqueline and I were in a relationship. The relationship was not based on any kind of monetary benefits like the way it is projected, commented and trolled in a bad light. The relationship had lots of love and respect for each other, without any expectations,” the note read. "I have gifted her things and done things for her family, [which] are normal things one would do for his loved one in a relationship. It is personal, I don’t understand why it is being made such a big deal."

Transcripts from the the directorate's questioning of Fernandez, published by NDTV on Wednesday, show the extent of their relationship, which involved lavish gifts and large amounts of money.

According to the transcript, Chandrasekhar and Fernandez met in February last year, when Chandrasekhar was out on bail and posed as the son of a TV network owner. In the ensuing months, he had bought Fernandez "bags from Gucci, Chanel, Saint Laurent and Dior; shoes from Louis Vuitton and Louboutin, outfits from Gucci, perfumes, four cats, a Mini Cooper car, two diamond earrings and a multi-coloured diamond bracelet."

Chandrasekhar also transferred $150,000 to the bank account of Fernandez's sister, Geraldine, who lives in the US, and 1 million rupees ($12,600) to her brother's account in Australia and a further 1m rupees to Fernandez's account.

According to the directorate's charge sheet, which labelled the gifts as "proceeds of crime", Fernandez's gifts also included a horse worth 5m rupees ($63,000) and a Persian cat worth 900,000 rupees ($11,300).

In all, the actress benefitted from gifts worth more than 70m rupees ($880,000), in addition to the cash payments, the agency said.

The Delhi High Court is set to hear the case involving Fernandez on Wednesday, August 31.

Who is Jacqueline Fernandez?

Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez performs during the pre-release promotions for Kannada-language film ‘Vikrant Rona’ in Mumbai on July 25, 2022. AFP

Born in Bahrain to a Sri Lankan father and a Malaysian-Canadian mother, Fernandez, 37, began her career as a model, after winning the Miss Universe Sri Lanka crown in 2006. In 2009, while on a modelling trip in India, she bagged a role in the film Aladin (2009), which kickstarted her Bollywood career.

While not widely known for her acting talent, Fernandez's good looks and on-screen persona ensured her appearance in more than 25 films since, which includes a number of blockbusters. She was most recently seen in the South Indian film Vikrant Rona, which was released last month.

Who is Sukesh Chandrasekhar?

Currently incarcerated for an ongoing 2bn rupees ($25m) extortion case, Chandrasekhar is facing 15 other charges, according to News18, for crimes ranging from extortion to fraud. Claiming to have close connections to the rich and powerful, he is alleged to have duped more than 100 people and cheated them to the tune of more than 7bn rupees ($88m).

The money laundering case, which implicates Fernandez, is connected to the 2bn extortion case. It was allegedly committed while Chandrasekhar was in prison in India's notorious Tihar jail.

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Updated: August 18, 2022, 12:14 PM