Hagar Cohen: In May last year the Malloch family in Sydney’s south-west noticed a homeless woman sleeping rough in a bush reserve near their house.
Joanne Malloch: The kids would see her up the park, and they’d say, ‘Oh the weird person is up the park,’ and I’d be like, ‘Just stay away, it’s okay, come back down.’ But it wasn’t enough to say that this person is a worry so we need to ring the police on them. Otherwise you’d be ringing the police on a lot of people.
Hagar Cohen: So she didn’t scare you or anything?
Joanne Malloch: No. It didn’t even scare the kids, not once did she approach the kids or anything. If anything she’d just turn down and walk away.
Hagar Cohen: Then, three days into the new year, while driving up her street, Joanne Malloch saw the homeless woman again. This time she looked like she was burnt.
Joanne Malloch: We passed her at about 4.10 on the day that she was found. And when I got home I said I think it looks like they’ve been burnt on the arm.
Hagar Cohen: Can you describe a little bit more of what you saw?
Joanne Malloch: It was just raised, like a severe burn, like a raised black kind of a colour. But then to me it’s like the bread you buy from Bakers Delight that’s like a tiger bread, so it’s like raised. Yeah, it didn’t look good. It was about 6 o’clock or just after 6 when police came and got her out of the bush up here.
Hagar Cohen: When the police arrived, they found Monika Chetty so severely burnt, she was barely alive. She was taken to hospital, but three weeks later, in late January, she died. It was reported that she died from an acid attack.
In countries like India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, acid attacks are well documented. Usually a jealous man will disfigure a woman by throwing acid at her, to restore his pride. But this type of assault is almost unheard of in Australia.
Heading the investigation into Monika Chetty’s death is Detective Sergeant Lidia Hill.
Lidia Hill: She was pretty severely burnt, to at least 80% of her body we were later informed by medical experts.
Hagar Cohen: When Lidia Hill met Monika Chetty at the hospital, she revealed she’d been attacked.
Lidia Hill: After she went to hospital, she was obviously transferred to the Concord Burns Unit due to the extent of her injuries. We did have a conversation with her at some point in time, but however it was quite limited.
Hagar Cohen: And that conversation was to do with the attack?
Lidia Hill: Yes, it was. She just reiterated that she was attacked in Bigge Park, confirming that it was Bigge Park at Liverpool, and that somebody had thrown acid on her at the park, or what she believed to be acid thrown at her at Bigge Park
Hagar Cohen: Did she say anything at all about the perpetrator, whether she knew the perpetrator or not?
Lidia Hill: She did not describe the person of interest at all, and did not give any further information about knowing the person of interest.
Hagar Cohen: So do you now believe that it was an acid attack?
Lidia Hill: We are able to say that she definitely sustained a direct contact with a chemical substance.
Hagar Cohen: Detective Sergeant Lidia Hill.
I’m Hagar Cohen. Today on Background Briefing, the secret life and horrific death of Monika Chetty.
Lidia Hill: At this stage we are treating it as a homicide investigation. We have consulted with a number of experts and one of those experts is a burns specialist that has confirmed the fact that we are looking at it as a homicide investigation. The investigation is complex and protracted, and these type of incidents are not common in Australia, and certainly not common in a homicide investigation that I’ve been a part of in my policing experience.
Hagar Cohen: When you talk about these kinds of investigations, to you mean the acid attack itself?
Lidia Hill: Yes, that’s correct, yes.
Hagar Cohen: So are there any suspects?
Lidia Hill: No, we have not identified any suspects at this stage. We are preparing a brief of evidence for the Coroner. A brief has been requested but we probably will need to extend on the due date of that. So an inquest date has not been formally set.
Hagar Cohen: And is that because of the complexity of the investigation?
Lidia Hill: Yes, that’s correct.
Hagar Cohen: While the police are still looking for her attacker, Background Briefing can reveal that Monika Chetty was involved in a visa scam, charging $40,000 for a fake marriage visa. We’ll hear how people went out of their way to try to help Monika Chetty, but she consistently rejected any offers. And we’ll also hear that Monika Chetty was trying to escape Australia because she feared for her life.
Memedrafeek Abdulmaleek [translated]: She told me she is having trouble with some relatives who are blackmailing her. She received death threats as well and she wanted to seek asylum immediately somewhere.
Raj Maharaj: There was threat to the children and the husband, that’s why she was not disclosing her matters to the family. And that’s why she wanted to stay on her own and solve the problem.
Hagar Cohen: Had she been blackmailed? Were there any threats to her children?
Lidia Hill: We can’t comment on that at the moment, it’s still subject to the investigation.
Hagar Cohen: Monika Chetty was 39 and a member of Sydney’s tightknit Fijian Indian community. Monika was divorced twice and had three children from her last marriage to Ronald Chetty. It ended in 2009. A year later he took full time custody of the kids, because Monika told him she couldn’t look after them anymore. She said she’s about to become homeless.
Ronald Chetty is reluctant to talk about his former wife. But he did say that after they divorced she’d occasionally ask him for money.
Ronald Chetty: Whenever she was in some kind of problem, she needed money and that’s about it. I helped her whatever I could.
Hagar Cohen: Do you know if maybe she was hanging out with some people who were trying to get a lot of money out of her?
Ronald Chetty: I don’t know dear, because I don’t know. After we separated I didn’t really want to know what’s going on because her life and my life was different. It was no point digging into someone else’s life. She never told us exactly what was happening with her life.
Hagar Cohen: Was she always a secretive kind of person or was it unusual that she would behave…?
Ronald Chetty: No, no, she was like that. It was really hard to get something out of her.
Hagar Cohen: His last contact with Monika was a phone call early in the afternoon of January 3. Ronald Chetty says she sounded distressed.
Ronald Chetty: Her voice wasn’t like 100% Monika, she was like someone maybe sick.
Hagar Cohen: So she sounded like she was sick?
Ronald Chetty: Sort of, yeah, it was a different voice.
Hagar Cohen: And did you ask her if everything is okay?
Ronald Chetty: I did ask her, I said, ‘Are you okay or not?’ And she said, ‘Yes, I’m okay.’
Hagar Cohen: But Monika Chetty wasn’t okay. That evening she was found lying face down in a bush reserve in the suburb of Hoxton Park. Green Valley police arrived just after 7pm.
Detective Sergeant Lidia Hill:
Lidia Hill: She did not really want police or assistance from ambulance personnel. However, she was given that assistance and was taken to hospital, and she subsequently told us that she was attacked at a park in Liverpool.
Hagar Cohen: What do you mean she didn’t want help?
Lidia Hill: She did make a comment that she didn’t want any fuss, and she didn’t want to go to hospital, yes.
Hagar Cohen: Was that strange?
Lidia Hill: Yes, it definitely was strange, but we know that Monika was quite a private individual, and that members of the public had offered her assistance in the past, and she had declined that, politely declined that assistance.
Hagar Cohen: As we’ll hear, the community in south-western Sydney reached out to Monika Chetty. She was offered a job, accommodation, counselling and food. But she persistently declined the offers. Monika Chetty was only after money, and urgently. As a beggar, she became a familiar sight on the streets of suburbs like Parramatta, Carnes Hill and Liverpool.
Lidia Hill: It is well known that Monika was begging around the railway stations and CBD areas within south-west Sydney. I can definitely confirm that we do have information that people were giving her small amounts of money.
Hagar Cohen: A five-minute walk from the train station in Liverpool is Bigge Park, where Monika was allegedly attacked. Overlooking the park is the local Salvation Army branch.
Belinda Spicer: This part of Liverpool is very much the heart of Liverpool, it’s surrounded by medical services, business, corporates, and we’re very much a part of this place in the community here, being the heart of the community.
Hagar Cohen: Major Belinda Spicer is the Salvo’s mission leader in Liverpool.
Belinda Spicer: It’s highly populated and any given day including the weekends there are hundreds of people who pass through this part of Liverpool.
Hagar Cohen: What goes on at nights here at Bigge Park?
Belinda Spicer: At night it is a very isolated, lonely, dark part of Liverpool. The only thing that would happen here, particularly in the winter months, is it would be home to the homeless people of Liverpool.
Hagar Cohen: Belinda Spicer says Monika Chetty was known in this area as one of the regular beggars.
Belinda Spicer: Everybody knew Monika Chetty. She was always around the station, which is just across the road. She would roam around this area, and she would ask people for money, and people gave her money. We’ve had people from our own congregation here who when they saw that she was in trouble and she was in the media, they immediately recognised Monika, and they would comment on how they would help her out, give her five dollars or give her some money, and feeling very sorry for her.
Hagar Cohen: In the central shopping district of Liverpool, the Fijian Indian community is prominent, with plenty of spice shops and restaurants. This is a hard working community, so it was a bit embarrassing that one of their own was roaming the streets here and begging for money.
Man: Yes, she did ask for money. So I told her that, you know, Centrelink is giving it to you. But don’t condemn the Indian society please.
Hagar Cohen: The owner of one Fijian Indian restaurant said her begging was shaming the
Man: ‘Just go look after yourself, don’t do that.’ That’s all I said
Hagar Cohen: Did you know she was Fijian Indian?
Man: Yes, by the look. I told her it is a disgrace for us.
Hagar Cohen: Oh you told her it was a disgrace for you?
Hagar Cohen: Because she was begging for money?
Man: Yes. We don’t want that, you know, because here, the government is looking after the people, but it’s no good to do that kind of thing in a society. I don’t condemn anybody but, you know, what her background is, what her life is, she’s supposed to look after herself.
Hagar Cohen: A few blocks away Jagdish Lodhia runs a jewellery shop. He says that in October last year, Monika Chetty came into his shop twice, asking for money.
Jagdish Lodhia: And she just asked me if I could help her with $5, which I did.
Hagar Cohen: And what did she look like? Did she have any burns at all?
Jagdish Lodhia: Yes, she definitely had burns on her face, and also on her arms, basically the fingers were a little burnt, she had some bandages on. And that’s about it basically, but she was normal, and she could talk normal. Everything was pretty normal. The only thing is the second time when she came over to me is when I got a little concerned.
Hagar Cohen: Why is that?
Jagdish Lodhia: Because first of all, being a person of my community, we normally don’t see too many beggars on the streets. And she was asking for money, which we didn’t like, and I just happened to ask the question why was she doing this, because this could become an ongoing thing. And she just said that, ‘Look, I don’t have a house, my husband has left me, I sleep in my car.’ Immediately we were a little concerned, even my wife was a little concerned, so we said, ‘Look, this is Australia and I don’t see any reason why you should sleep in the car. And if your husband has left you that does not mean that’s the end of the world.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you go to Centrelink and ask them, tell them about your story and I’m sure they will help you.’ But she said, ‘No, no, no, they would not help me.’ So immediately I said, ‘Look, I don’t see any reason why they would not help you. If you want I’ll come over and I’ll ask them, I’ll talk to them.’ She said, ‘No, no, no,’ and then she just quickly left. She didn’t want to talk about it.
Hagar Cohen: Jagdish Lodhia thought it was strange that Monika was so articulate and well-mannered and yet was begging on the streets.
At around the same time, a woman who was living in a local women’s refuge saw Monika Chetty sleeping rough in a park. She rang the manager of her refuge and asked if they could help Monika. The manager of the Joan Harrison refuge, Inayet Erol, sent two caseworkers.
Inayet Erol: The events on that particular day was that we received a phone call about a woman that had been sleeping rough.
Hagar Cohen: Who was that phone call from?
Inayet Erol: The phone call was actually from another client that we were supporting in one of our external transitional supported housing properties. She said that she had come across this woman who was homeless, had been sleeping rough. She asked if we could help her. So two staff members got some blankets, it was a very cold day, and made a little parcel of food items, and they went down to Liverpool, and they spoke to her. She said that she was homeless and had been sleeping in a park, and they offered her the blanket, they offered her accommodation because we had a vacancy on that particular day. She declined to come in to the service. She said she wasn’t comfortable in a refuge.
She was even reluctant to take the food and the blanket because she said that it would just be something else that she needed to carry. She asked if they could assist her with money, but she was told that the service doesn’t assist with cash. She was asked if she was on a benefit, and she said that there was some problems with her benefit currently, so one of our workers said to her that we could assist her with that, so an appointment was made for the next day at 1 o’clock to meet her in front of Centrelink to assist her with her benefit. The worker that had made the appointment with her went in at 1 o’clock and hung around for about half an hour waiting for her, inside and outside, looking out for her, but she didn’t turn up.
Hagar Cohen: In another suburb, Carnes Hill, Jameel Ahmed saw Monika Chetty begging at the car park of a shopping centre. When he approached her, he noticed she was injured, and she told him she’s homeless, lonely and desperate for money. He was moved by her story, and decided to raise her plight with the wider Fijian Indian community.
He sent an email to their community organisation which reads:
Reading: ‘A few days back I ran into a 38-year-old lady in the Carnes Hill shopping complex car park, she identified herself as a homeless. Her tragic story goes as follows. She used to live with her elderly parents in a mortgaged house in Blacktown and was separated from her partner.
Since then, both her parents have departed this world, and her only sister severed her ties with the family when she ran away with a Pakistani man. All other distant family and friends have distanced themselves from her, leaving her to fend for herself in this cruel world.
She used to work as a nurse until fate dealt her a cruel blow leaving her unemployable and homeless. Monika is recovering from burns sustained from opening the radiator cap on her Ford Laser car (which she sleeps in) when it stopped on the freeway. Also bandaged were her hands which she hurt when the bonnet of the car fell accidently.
The women’s refuge in Liverpool took her in but she was being subjected to torment by other young youths, so she opted to move out. I saw it as my social obligation or duty to highlight Monika’s plight to a Fijian communal welfare organisation, in particular due to her cultural background.’
Hagar Cohen: It’s unclear whether these statements about her life are true. But Jameel Ahmed told Background Briefing that Monika seemed hysterical when they spoke. To help her, he deposited cash into her account twice, a total of $500. In the meantime, the community members on the email list decided to send a representative to see how they could help Monika.
Restaurant owner Raj Maharaj volunteered to get in touch with her.
Raj Maharaj: We were having email correspondence through our association which is FISCAA. When we had the meeting I volunteered to check on her. I spoke to the president and I said to him, ‘Leave it to me and I’ll see if I can get some story out of her.’
Hagar Cohen: Raj Maharaj runs a takeaway joint on a busy road. He says he spoke to Monika Chetty on the phone and even offered her a job as a kitchen hand. But he says she wasn’t interested in any of that. She only wanted cash.
Raj Maharaj: When I rang the mobile she said that she was in trouble and that she needed some money in the bank, and she wanted $700. She said, ‘I urgently need the money.’ And I said to her, ‘Why do you want money?’ She said, ‘I urgently need it.’ And I said, ‘I cannot sort of know anybody over the phone and post so much money, I’ve got to see you and know you.’
So I gave her my restaurant’s address, I told her to come over. She said, ‘I’m in Fairfield.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll direct you if you want, but if you come real closer and if you don’t find the place, you give me a call and I’ll guide you in and then we can sit down and talk.’ I said, ‘I can give you some work to do over here too, kitchen work or whatever, so at least you can earn.’
Hagar Cohen: And what did she say?
Raj Maharaj: She always was emphasising on that extra money she wanted, you know, $700 in the bank, you know, ‘I need money urgently for something.’ I think a couple of days later I had another call from her and I said…
Hagar Cohen: She rang you?
Raj Maharaj: Yes, she rang me up. She said to me, ‘I’m here and I want that money.’ I said, ‘Well, I told you what to do, come and see me personally and then I can give you the money.’ But she never turned up. After she started refusing to co-operate with me, my wife said to me, ‘I don’t think she’s genuine, she looks like she’s a fraud.’
Hagar Cohen: She looks like she is a fraud? What does that mean?
Raj Maharaj: It means if she was keen and if she really wanted help, she would have come over and volunteer herself to at least show her face.
Hagar Cohen: Raj Maharaj told his community group that Monika Chetty wasn’t interested in their help. He also said her plight didn’t seem genuine. The community members became suspicious about her motives. For example, community member Dr Anil Kumar responded by email saying that:
Reading: ‘My initial trepidation and suspicions about this case may appear to have been borne out with time. That is that perhaps the person in question may be a beggar rather than a bona fide destitute. Further developments may perhaps be more revealing. We must guard against the fallibility of falling into a trap of gullibility and naivety when approached by such needy.’
Hagar Cohen: After Monika Chetty’s tragic death, the Fijian Indian community started soul searching. Had they done enough for a fellow citizen who was so visibly distressed? Now the community is swirling with rumours. How did she die? Why did she need so much money? And who was after her?
Raj Maharaj says that one of his restaurant costumers told him Monika had faced extortion threats.
Raj Maharaj: He was a truck driver, and he came over and he spoke to me, and he told me why she needed the money. She said that other people are behind her that are getting her to… there was an extortionist, they’re trying to extort money out of her with some jewellery.
Hagar Cohen: With some jewellery? What does that mean?
Raj Maharaj: I don’t know whether she left the jewellery over there, or she bought some jewellery from them, and then she had to pay back.
Hagar Cohen: Were there threats to her children or anything like that?
Raj Maharaj: According to the gentlemen who spoke to me, he said that there was threat to the children and the husband, that’s why she wasn’t disclosing her matters to the family. And that’s why she wanted to stay on her own and solve the problem.
Hagar Cohen: Raj Maharaj hasn’t been able to verify the truck driver’s story. But as we’ll hear, only days before she died, Monika Chetty confided in an online companion about being blackmailed, and wanting to escape death threats. And it’s clear she was prepared to do anything to get the money she needed.
Background Briefing has learnt of her participation in an elaborate visa scam, selling the promise of fake marriage visas for tens of thousands of dollars.
Monika Chetty also contacted a number of her long-lost friends. Jarvis Prasad hadn’t seen Monika for many years when she rang out of the blue.
Jarvis Prasad: I heard from her mid last year. She called me. I didn’t even know it was her and then she said, ‘It’s Monika.’ And she goes, ‘I need some money.’ And I said, ‘Okay, I can do that,’ but I was a bit worried. All of a sudden after so many years now she is asking for money, I was concerned. So I told her, ‘Can we meet up? I’m willing to give you the money but I need to see you,’ because I had no idea, like maybe she was in trouble. The only problem was she didn’t want to meet.
Hagar Cohen: Did you ask her why did she need the money?
Jarvis Prasad: Yes, I did ask her. She didn’t want to discuss. First I thought maybe somebody is trying to make her get money. And that’s the reason we wanted to see her. But she didn’t want to see us.
Hagar Cohen: Jarvis Prasad wasn’t the only one getting the strange phone calls from Monika. She rang at least seven of the friends from Jarvis’s circle, asking for money. Next on her contact list was insurance broker Raj Singh.
Raj Singh: She gave me a call and said, ‘Look, Raj, can I see you?’ And I said, ‘What’s wrong,’ and she said, ‘No, I just want to meet you.’ So we had an appointment and she came round and said, ‘Look Raj, I’m behind in my payments.’ And I said, ‘What?’ She goes, ‘Just the car payments.’ So I gave her $150. She was pretty happy, and I offered her a job too.
Hagar Cohen: Was she homeless?
Raj Singh: No, she didn’t say that, nothing, all she said is, ‘I’ve got a car, I’ve got a licence.’ I asked her, because with this job you need a license. So that was the first. And then after maybe two or three months later she rang me again but that’s when she sounded desperate, like she needed more money. She kept on ringing me and telling me, look, just transfer the money, transfer the money. So that was the last…and I knew something was wrong, and I said, ‘Look, I’m in Albury, when I come back I’ll talk to you.’ And then I was away for a week or two I think, two weeks, and when I came back she never called back and nothing else.
Hagar Cohen: And then you found out that she was asking money from all of your friends?
Raj Singh: All my mates, yes. So then later I found out, all my mates rang me, ‘Has Monika rang you?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘And have you given her money?’ I said, ‘Yes, I have, the first time.’ And they said, ‘Well, let’s find out because she asked everyone.’ Then I knew something was wrong.
Hagar Cohen: The group of friends met to discuss Monika Chetty’s desperation. It then came out that she had told some of them about her connection to a visa scam. Jarvis Prasad says she’d been asking a few of them if they knew men in Fiji who wanted to purchase permanent residency in Australia. She said she could organise fake marriage visas for the right amount of money.
Jarvis Prasad: What she was trying to tell my mate was that is if you know someone who wants to get married, they can arrange someone for money to marry that person, for a sum of money.
Hagar Cohen: So she was asking your mate whether he knows of any men who want to get married?
Jarvis Prasad: Yes, like if he has clients, she can pretty much help but it’s going to cost.
Hagar Cohen: So that they can get marriage visa in Australia?
Jarvis Prasad: Yes, they can organise that for a sum of money. I said, ‘Maybe she’s lying, trying to get some money,’ and he said, ‘No, no, she was serious.’
Hagar Cohen: Raj Singh was hearing the same stories.
Raj Singh: She was doing arranged marriages for the money. The way it works is people from overseas when they want to get here someone has to have Australian visa or passport and then they get married, and they give them a lump sum of money. And they stay with them for a year or two to get the visa.
Hagar Cohen: Background Briefing can reveal that Monika Chetty did offer to broker a fake marriage and took payments from at least one man.
Gokul Mochi is an Indian citizen from the Gujarat region. Background Briefing met him in Sydney. The young man agreed to tell his story but not to record an interview. His account has been corroborated by others Background Briefing spoke to.
Mr Mochi came to Australia on a student visa five years ago, hoping to settle here permanently as a skilled migrant. However, when the migration rules changed, it became impossible for him to gain permanent residency here as a student.
Mr Mochi’s friends told him about a woman who could arrange permanent residency for him. That woman was Monika Chetty. They first met in her car next to the train station in the suburb of Harris Park. She said she could arrange for him to marry an Australian citizen, but it would cost him a bit over $40,000. Mr Mochi agreed to pay her in instalments $1,000 at a time. He paid in cash fortnightly, every time meeting her at the same place at Harris Park station. Sometimes he’d pay even more then the agreed $1,000.
Gokul Mochi said he gave Monika his passport, which she claimed she needed for the permanent residency stamp. To pay for the visa, Mr Mochi worked 7 days a week from 9am until midnight, initially at a car wash, and later as a kitchen hand in a an Indian restaurant called Billu’s Eatery. But when he discovered that Monika Chetty had died, he realised he’d been duped of $30,000.
His visa to stay in Australia ran out, and he didn’t have a passport. He stayed in Sydney unlawfully, and kept working at Billu’s Eatery. On Feb 12, immigration officials went to Billu’s Eatery after a tip-off about illegal workers. They found four Indian men whose Australian visas had expired.
All of them were sent to Villawood Detention Centre, and by now they’ve all been deported back to India. Background Briefing understands Green Valley police interviewed Gokul Mochi in Villawood Detention Centre twice.
Around Australia, arranging fake marriages is a growing business. Earlier this year in Brisbane, a migration agent was charged over an alleged visa scam where Indian students paid for bogus marriages to Australian women.
In Sydney too there are similar allegations.
Chandrika Subramaniyan: At the moment I understand that a lot of fake marriages and visa things are going on in the community.
Hagar Cohen: Lawyer Chandrika Subramaniyan says there are elaborate fake marriage rackets in the Indian community in Sydney.
This is how it works: the first fake marriage happens in India. A person whose English is good enough to pass the English test to study in Australia, marries a person who has the money to sponsor them both in Australia. If they can’t obtain permanent residenc, they’ll divorce and look for an Australian resident to marry.
Chandrika Subramaniyan: Once this permanent residency is not happening, the people who get divorced they go and get married to people who have permanent residency, like somebody from the Fiji community or somebody from the New Zealand or some Australian or anybody who’s willing to get married. But I don’t know how far it is genuine.
Hagar Cohen: Under their visa conditions, once they divorce, the student’s partner can remain in Australia for a maximum of 28 days, unless he or she is able to remarry. Chandrika Subramaniyan says she sees many people in her western suburbs practice who want to remarry quickly after divorcing.
Chandrika Subramaniyan: People come to us all the time for divorce applications, so if it’s genuine we do the divorces. But the same client, when they come back and say, ‘Now we want to do spouse visa,’ I refuse to do it, because I have my own doubts about whether it’s a genuine one, or just within a month’s time somebody is getting married, that creates some doubt.
Hagar Cohen: So someone who was divorced through your practice would come back to you a month later to get married.
Chandrika Subramaniyan: Yes, it’s for visa purposes. See, once they are divorced they have a certain number of days, they have to get married 28 days…they have to leave if the visa is cancelled. So once the wife tells that we are divorced and the other party has to go, he may have 28 days, and he comes on the 27th day and he wants to get married to somebody and put the papers for visa, which is not my kind of…I don’t like to do that.
Hagar Cohen: But how many clients came to you, say, on the 27th day?
Chandrika Subramaniyan: Out of 10, at least three came back to us.
Hagar Cohen: Did they acknowledge to you it was fake marriage?
Chandrika Subramaniyan: No, no one acknowledges, they always come and say it’s a very genuine marriage and I love my wife and look at my jewelleries, look at my sindoor, we are in a very happy life and stuff.
Hagar Cohen: Migration lawyer, Chandrika Subramaniyan.
When Monika Chetty told her friends that she could arrange fake marriages, it didn’t surprise Jarvis Prasad. He says these kinds of arrangements are well known in the Indian community, and he’s also been approached.
Jarvis Prasad: Asking me if I know someone who would marry them for money. To tell you the truth this practice is still happening here. I can’t physically tell you who or…
Hagar Cohen: But it happened to you? Someone asked you to marry someone?
Jarvis Prasad: Yes, definitely. Someone did mention it, if I know someone or if someone knows someone and if I can actually organise something for them.
Hagar Cohen: How much money?
Jarvis Prasad: It’s a lot of money, they pay up to $30,000-$40,000, sometimes $50,000, it depends how rich they are, and how desperate they are.
Hagar Cohen: Just how much money Monika Chetty received from the visa scam is now being investigated by police.
Detective Sergeant Lidia Hill:
Lidia Hill: We are looking into all aspects of her life and her background, which include looking into all her finances, which include bank accounts et cetera.
Hagar Cohen: Are you able to tell me why did she need so much money?
Lidia Hill: We’re still looking into that whole issue regarding the finances, what people were giving her, where that money was going. It’s still part of the investigation. We are still seeking specific information about the injuries she received days prior to 3 January, 2014. I encourage anyone with information to contact Green Valley detectives or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000. I’d like to remind the public that they can provide the information anonymously through Crime Stoppers.
Hagar Cohen: It also appears that Monika’s desperation for money extended to people she met on the internet. On Facebook she contacted a young man, a Tamil Sri Lankan who lives and works in Saudi Arabia. Background Briefing spoke to that man a number of times, through an interpreter.
Memedrafeek Abdulmaleek [translated]: I am from Ampara District in Sri Lanka. I am here for the past seven years.
Hagar Cohen: Memedrafeek Abdulmaleek says he first went to Saudi Arabia to work in a military camp guarding the king’s residence in Mecca. He didn’t like the work and he ran away. But his passport was confiscated, so he’s stuck in Saudi Arabia and he’s lonely. He says Monika Chetty approached him on Facebook.
Memedrafeek Abdulmaleek [translated]: I randomly got connected to her through Facebook. She said that she can help me come to Australia, and that she can help me get a visa.
Hagar Cohen: He says they continued the relationship via email, and that Monika Chetty sent him dozens of emails. It was then that she started opening up to him and wrote about her own problems. He says that she revealed to him that she wanted to escape Australia because she was receiving death threats and that she feared for her life.
Memedrafeek Abdulmaleek [translated]: Initially she was going to help me come to Australia. That’s how she started, but then I started getting different emails. Now I will tell you the truth, she has sent me more than 30 to 40 emails, but later her emails were only about her problems. Then I dropped the idea of coming to Australia.
Now the problem is she wrote to me asking help. She wanted help to escape from Australia. She told me she is having trouble with some relatives who are blackmailing her. But she didn’t say why they are troubling her or what their names are. She received death threats as well and she wanted to seek asylum immediately somewhere.
She told me that she was not living in peace there, she wants to seek asylum somewhere to get away from those three or four people who are giving her trouble. In December 2013 I received another email, and that was the last one from her. The details she sent me were very, very heavy details. I replied to her stating this is unbelievable, and then I did not have any contact with her.
You know she sent me her bank balance, bank manager details, and account details, and the ID, like that, a lot of information. Can you tell me, in this day and age, will anybody provide someone with their bank balance, father’s details, family background details?
Hagar Cohen: It’s unclear why Monika Chetty disclosed her financial details to Memedrafeek, and the police have no knowledge of her plans to leave Australia.
Her last email to her Facebook friend in Saudi Arabia was in December. In early January Monika was found lying in bushes, with burns to 80% of her body. She died three weeks later.
Yadu Singh: Once it happened, everybody was reflecting; meeting her, giving her a bit of money, offering help, was it enough? Obviously not.
Hagar Cohen: Community leader Dr Yadu Singh had met a homeless Monika Chetty in a shopping mall last May. He was sure she would soon get her life sorted out.
Yadu Singh: And then it came, how come she got burns? ‘That somebody came and threw acid on me.’ That’s what she said. A 39-year-old lady, mother of three, sister of somebody, daughter of somebody, died at 39 in this cruel manner, after being burned 80%. That is the biggest story in this whole saga, that this type of behaviour, throwing acid on people, is not uncommon in south Asia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other places. Mostly among young people when the relationship is not going well and some issue happens, it happens in India and Pakistan. I wasn’t aware of acid being thrown at somebody in Australia. What are we doing here? What is going on here? How come this is…are we going towards the same direction which happens in India?
Hagar Cohen: Background Briefing‘s coordinating producer is Linda McGinness, research by Anna Whitfeld, with thanks also to freelance journalist Fiona Harari and interpreter Balasingham Prabhakharan. Technical production by Leila Shunnar, the executive producer is Chris Bullock, and I’m Hagar Cohen.