Fraudster dubbed the ‘con Queen of Hollywood’ who is fighting extradition to US after ‘scamming film executives in £1.5M swindle’ wants to be tried in the UK where he can be ‘openly gay’
- Hargobind Tahilramani, 42, allegedly impersonated top film executives in a scam
- He was arrested in Manchester in November 2020 after year-long probe by FBI
- Tahilramani is resisting extradition to the US and wants to be tried in the UK
A fraudster dubbed ‘the con Queen of Hollywood’ who faces extradition to the US over a £1.5m swindle said he fled to Britain so he can be openly gay, a court heard.
Indonesian Hargobind Tahilramani, 42, allegedly ran a scam which saw him impersonate top film executives, including producers working for The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan.
Victims received calls offering the opportunity of a lifetime shooting a blockbuster film in Indonesia between 1 January 2013 and 31 August 2020, it was said.
Among those allegedly imitated by the ‘catfish’ were Star Wars producer Kathleen Kennedy, former Sony movie chief Amy Pascal, and ex-Paramount boss Sherry Lansing.
Tahilramani allegedly spoke in a high-pitched voice to impersonate Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife Wendi Deng while luring creatives into his scheme.
Tahilramani was charged by a grand jury in the Southern District of California with eight counts on 6 October 2020.
On count one he is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries the maximum of 20 years jail. He faces two counts of wire fraud, carrying the same maximum.
Tahilramani also faces five counts of aggravated identity theft, each count carrying a maximum of two years imprisonment.
Hargobind Tahilramani, 42, allegedly ran a scam which saw him impersonate top film executives
He was arrested at a £60-a-night Aparthotel in Manchester in the early hours of 26 November 2020 after a year long probe by the FBI.
Tahilramani is resisting extradition to the US because he wants to be tried in the UK.
Appearing via video link from HMP Wandsworth wearing a grey jumper today, Tahilramani explained why he wants to live in the UK after claiming asylum.
‘My mother was born in British Hong Kong and my father in British India. English was my mother tongue.
‘They have told me beautiful stories about places like Whitby and Liverpool, London, Margate and they told me that someday I should go to the UK.
‘The most important thing is now that I am a gay man openly and this is is a free society…has always accepted people of all kinds.
‘That is the link that I have with this country.’
Tahilramani told the court that he grew up in Indonesia as part of a Sindhi Indian Community, which adhered to ‘strict values’.
When his mother was pregnant with him, others in the community expected him to be a girl.
Tahilramani is accused of impersonating Rupert Murdoch’s former wife Wendi Deng
‘So the community thought that I was a mistake and I was never born to make any children and it was already prescribed as a child that I was the crazy one.’
He said that his sexuality meant he would be considered an ‘outlier’ and an ‘abnormal person’ in his community.
Tahilramani added that he knew Indonesia to be ‘fanatically Muslim’ with ‘laws’ and ‘morality police’ that he lived in fear of.
He said he was ‘locked up’ for almost three years in an institution there.
The court heard that, growing up, he was ‘forced to live a lie’.
Ben Cooper, KC, defending, asked: ‘I want to understand the connection between what you personally experienced in being forced to live a lie…and its impact on you in terms of your subsequent behaviour?’
Tahilramani replied: ‘When I was younger, probably 12 or 13, my mother was closest to me.
‘I discovered I was gay.
‘She informed me that I would have to marry someday.
‘That was the first time I was dishonest. Ever since then I had to sort of put on a mask.
‘This mask followed me all the way through my adult life.’
He confirmed that the lying and dishonesty that he had to keep up is tied up in a wish to be accepted.
Tahilramani allegedly pretended to be executives, including producers working for The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan (pictured)
The court also heard that Tahilramani has ‘always’ been in fear of his family. He claims he fled Indonesia for the UK to flee from his sisters.
Tahilramani said he bumped into a friend of his sister’s who told him they thought he had mental health problems and belonged in a home, prompting him to flee.
‘I want to be accepted by them but I know I can’t and I fear that for the rest of my life I will never be loved again.’
Psychiatrist Dr Stuart Grassian, an expert on the psychiatric effects of solitary confinement, said Tahilramani will not be able to cope in an American prison.
Giving evidence over a live link Dr Grassian said: ‘Will he be able to cope in the same way he has been able to cope in Wandsworth? My answer is no.’
Tahilramani has been working in textiles and studying as he lives in custody in HMP Wandsworth, the court heard.
Tahilramani is resisting extradition to the US because he wants to be tried in the UK
The psychiatrist deemed him ‘relatively stable’ and ‘doing reasonably well’ at the London prison.
He also agreed that Tahilramani was currently at a ‘low risk of suicide’.
Dr Grassian wrote two reports in which he highlighted the difference between US and UK incarceration and how that would affect the alleged fraudster.
‘As I indicated I have a fairly extensive experience in reviewing conditions in US prisons.
‘I do know that individuals who are seen as at significant risk of victimisation are very likely to be in solitary confinement. That is an extremely harsh condition of confinement. People suffer.
‘There is a significant risk of suicide even among those who don’t have underlying mental disturbances.’
Dr Grassian believed Tahilramani would ‘come across as someone who could be victimised’.
The extradition hearing continues.