Chrisann Pereira: How a Bollywood actress was framed as a drug mule

Chrisann Pereira: How a Bollywood actress was framed as a drug mule
Chrisann PereiraChrisann Pereira

What happened to aspiring actress Chrisann Pereira last month resembles the plot of a Bollywood thriller.

When the 27-year-old, who has done small roles in Bollywood films Sadak2 and Batla House, flew from the western Indian city of Mumbai to Sharjah in United Arab Emirates on 1 April, she had stars in her eyes.

Chrisann had been told that she would be auditioning for a meaty role in a web series that would be shown on an international platform, her brother Kevin told the BBC.

But the visit to Sharjah landed her and her family in a nightmare – she was arrested and jailed after a memento she was carrying was found stuffed with drugs.

Three weeks later, she was finally released after police in Mumbai arrested two men and charged them with framing Chrisann. She’s waiting to get her passport before she can return to India, Kevin said.

A police official in Mumbai’s crime branch, who was part of the team which investigated the case, told the BBC that a third man – suspected of supplying the drugs – has also been arrested and jailed.

“It was revenge, plotted by the main accused – bakery-owner Anthony Paul – and executed with help from his banker friend Rajesh Damodar Bobhate who also goes by aliases such as Ravi Jain and Prasad Rao,” the official said.

He said their investigation showed that the duo had framed four other people earlier in a similar manner and that one of them – Clayton Rodrigues – was still in prison in Sharjah.

Mr Paul and Mr Bobhate have not commented on the allegations since they are in jail. But Mr Paul’s lawyer Ajay Dubey denied the allegations against him, calling them “totally false and malafide”. He blamed Mr Bobhate for “duping” his client and said he had nothing to do with the memento.

But Mr Bobhate’s wife Sonal told the BBC that it was Mr Paul who had “framed” her husband.

Kevin Pereira with his sister Chrisann

Kevin Pereira

The story of how Chrisann became the drug mule, narrated by Kevin, is full of unbelievable twists and turns.

On 23 March, he says their mother Premila Pereira received a message from a man who said he had met her at an event and that he was financing a web series and wanted to cast her daughter in it.

“When Chrisann met him, he told her she would have to travel to Dubai for the audition but when he sent her a ticket, it was for Sharjah.”

Kevin says he told his sister to “be careful since one hears of so many scams” but “doubts didn’t even cross her mind”.

“She was prepping for the audition and was really excited about this brilliant opportunity,” he says.

A few hours before her flight, Kevin says Chrisann received a call from the same man, asking her to meet him on the way to the airport. There, he handed her a memento and asked her to give it to his friend in Sharjah.

“She landed at 1:17am and called our dad around 2am to say that she had been scammed. She said there was no-one to meet her at the airport and there was no hotel booking in her name. Then she also told us about this memento.”

Kevin, who’d worked in an airline earlier, says that’s when he realised that his sister was in big trouble.

“I told her to immediately go to the airport police and tell them everything. For the next 17 days, we were unable to reach Chrisann.”

The family lodged a police complaint and over the next few days, the Pereiras wrote 15 emails, including to the prime minister, the ministry of external affairs and the Indian consulate in Sharjah asking for help.

“We finally got confirmation from the Indian consulate that Chrisann was in Sharjah Central Prison for possession of drugs. When we googled, we found reports that said people could be punished with 25 years in jail or even a death sentence. This led to a state of panic in our home.”

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The trophy Chrisann was given to carry to Sharjah

Kevin Pereira

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A week after Chrisann’s arrest, as the family’s desperation grew, Kevin decided to post appeals for help on Twitter and Instagram – and finally, a breakthrough came.

Four people responded to his Instagram post saying they had been through a similar ordeal. They all wrote that a man with the same name who had given the memento to Chrisann had also given them suspicious items to carry to the Middle East.

So, Kevin and families of some of the other victims went to the police and the Crime Branch took over the case.

Police say in all the five cases, there was “a personal angle” and that Mr Paul knew all his victims and that these were all done to settle personal scores.

They claim that Mr Paul told them that he began plotting the revenge a year ago after he and Chrisann’s mother had an argument over stray dogs.

The Pereiras said they thought they had moved past the incident and all was well and that they had no idea that Chrisann was framed until 24 April when police announced the arrests and ascribed motive to the accused.

For the Pereira family though, the nightmare is yet to end.

“I always knew my sister was innocent and that the truth will come out, but you cannot imagine the mental and emotional torture we are going through. My sister is out of prison, she is safe, but we still don’t know when the case will be closed and she will return home,” says Kevin.

The incident, he adds, has completely shaken Chrisann.

“She’s in a state of shock, she can’t digest that someone can do something like this to her. We are trying to keep her motivated, but until she’s back home I don’t think she – or any of us – can breathe easy.”

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