A District Court jury in Sydney has found Balesh Dhankhar, who led the Overseas Friends of the BJP in New South Wales, Australia, guilty of sexually assaulting five women after lying to them and paralysing them with drugs. Dubbed by the Australian media as “one of the worst rapists in Sydney’s recent history”, Dhankhar’s position as the head of the Overseas Friends of the BJP enabled him to rub shoulders with the most powerful in Sydney’s Indian diaspora. Dhankhar will face court again next month and will be sentenced later in the year.
Photographs on Dhankhar’s website show him meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and speaking at NSW government events. According to the New South Wales Police, a raid at his apartment in 2018 threw up dozens of videos of him having sex with women. Sometimes the women were unconscious, other times they struggled and groaned as if in a nightmare.
The videos were sorted into folders, each labelled with a Korean woman’s name. Then detectives found a series of bookmarks in Dhankhar’s browser. ‘Small drugged Korean f—ed webcam roleplay’ — one video bookmarked on his computer was titled. Another video went for 95 minutes, a montage of unconscious women subjected to sex.
A WEB OF LIES
The police said that Dhankhar was increasingly obsessed with Korean cinema, language and women. He developed a complex deception that began with a fake job ad for Korean translators posted in 2017, the police said. Dhankhar recorded conversations with the women who were alone, desperate for work and new in Sydney.
There was no job, no company, it was an attempt to “manipulate women” after a grinding cross-examination, the police said, adding: “Dhankhar interviewed each of the women at the Hilton hotel cafe before pressuring them into dinner, soju and wine”.
Then Dhankhar would make an excuse to go up to his apartment in World Square Tower. He sometimes promised them a view of the Opera House, or claimed he needed his car keys.
Dhankhar gave the women wine or ice-cream laced with sedatives; traces were found in the blood and hair of two victims. He told doctors he needed the drugs to rest, so he could “devote time to family”.
One of the five young women assaulted by Dhankhar texted her friend from World Square Tower. Her vision was blurring, and she was scared, the police said.
“And I am worried myself. He keeps trying to kiss me … I am f—ed up,” she wrote. Her friend frantically urged her to come downstairs; she didn’t know which floor Dhankhar lived on.
On the 24th floor, Dhankhar was hauling the young woman’s limp body around his living room, trying to dance with her. The woman does not remember much more, but believed she was assaulted.
“In my culture when this thing happens it’s very bad,” she told the court. “But it’s better not to stick out because you can be targeted by friends or family (who ask), ‘Why did you follow the guy?’”
Dhankhar’s barrister, Rebecca Mitchell, asked why the woman did not cut contact if she was assaulted. “I wanted badly to cut the relationship, but I needed the job … I was desperate,” the woman replied.
Dhankhar recorded his sexual assaults using a camera hidden in his bedside alarm clock and on his phone, the police said. The contents of the videos are too confronting to describe in detail. The jury writhed as they watched the videos. At one stage it became too much and they asked to be sent home early. Judge Michael King appeared sympathetic.
Prosecutors and court staff, moments later, spilled into the hallways of the court. Some had red eyes, others were shaking.
Dhankhar’s wife supported him in court, often in tears. The only time Dhankhar cried was while explaining he lied to women because he was lonely after an extra-marital affair broke down. He blamed his loneliness on the “unfulfilling” intimacy of his marriage.
Dhankhar sold his family’s assets and properties to fund his legal defence. He was assigned a rising star barrister. But the sheer volume of the evidence against Dhankhar, most of it recorded by the attacker himself, left Mitchell few options but to suggest he was “honest about his deceptions”.
Dhankhar could have pleaded guilty in the past five years, which might have earned him a discounted sentence in exchange for saving his victims the trauma of giving evidence.
His decision to contest the charges means he now faces many years in prison for his crimes.
Dhankhar cried on Monday as the jury foreman replied “guilty” to each of the 39 charges against him. He asked to remain on bail but Judge King refused, before Dhankhar was handcuffed and led away by officers.