'Stain on our reputation will never clear': Toronto Matharoo sisters arrested in Nigeria speak out
Rachael D'Amore, CTV News Toronto
Published Tuesday, May 2, 2017 6:09PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 2, 2017 9:28PM EDT
‘Gold diggers,’ ‘sextortion sisters,’ ‘prostitutes,’ – the Matharoo’s have heard it all.
The two Toronto sisters last seen apologizing in a video for allegedly extorting and cyberbullying a Nigerian billionaire are back in Canada after a tumultuous month in Lagos where they say local authorities accused them of being behind a slanderous website.
Back in December, a Nigerian news website reported that Kiran and Jyoti Matharoo were under investigation for allegedly trying to blackmail billionaire Femi Otedola and cyberbully more than 200 other people throughout Africa.
The reports claimed that the women were in possession of photos and videos showing Otedola cheating on his wife.
The sisters were eventually charged with extortion, cyberbullying and threatening to kidnap.
Shortly after news of the allegations made its way to Canada, a video surfaced on YouTube showing the girls, make-up free and plainly clothed, apologizing to Otedola and his family.
In the video apology, the sisters admitted to creating an online “platform” known where people could anonymously send in scandalous stories about others.
They said in the video that their intention was not to hurt or extort anyone.
Speaking to CTV News Toronto exclusively, the women denied having anything to do with the website, saying they were never responsible for the website nor the gossip-laden story posted there about Otedola. They said they agreed to make the video in order to have their passports returned.
The sisters insist they were scapegoats in the Nigerian authorities’ alleged attempt to cover-up a “national embarrassment” involving a person with “power and money.”
Sisters demanded to see arrest warrant
It all started on December 14, a few days after Jyoti and Kiran arrived in Nigeria to spend the holidays -- like they always do.
While settling in at their hotel, they say they were interrupted by a knock at the door.
Kiran said she opened the door only to have several police officers push her out of the way and barge into their room. The sisters claim the officers snatched their phones out of their hands and demanded to know their connection to the gossip blog.
“When I first told the police officer that we had been slandered on the site ourselves, he said, ‘You have?’” Kiran said. “He was confused by it.”
Throughout their jaunts in Nigeria, the women say they have also been targeted in malicious articles on the gossip blog. The anonymous author and subsequent commenters called the girls “prostitutes,” “escorts” and “gold diggers,” and “were always trying to guess who we know, who we don’t know, what we’re doing and where we are,” Kiran said.
As the officers sifted through their things, Jyoti said she picked up her cellphone to dial the Canadian Embassy but was caught by an officer who snatched the device from her hands.
The women allege the nonuniform officers forced them into a vehicle. They said they were overcome with the fear that they were being kidnapped.
“At this point I was yelling and saying, ‘Show me an arrest warrant, show me something with my name on it,’ but,” Kiran said, pausing briefly as she holds back tears. “They didn’t have any identification. It was scary. It’s hard to relive it.”
“We just thought we were going to be questioned and we could say that we wanted our lawyer and that they’d just let us go,” Jyoti said.
“That never happened.”
Sitting on pieces of foam in a dank, roofless cell among 11 other women and a mischief of rats, Jyoti and Kiran’s fear mounted.
Eight hours passed before the girls were freed without much explanation.
The women say they were then placed under police protection at a new hotel near the airport. A few days later, the women say Otedola arrange to have them brought to his home where they would record the now infamous apology video.
They claim they were offered a deal in exchange for their freedom – admit to running the blog and damaging the reputation of Otedola and they’d be given their passports and let go.
Out of fear for their lives, the sisters say they signed an undertaking.
That undertaking required them to abide by a range of demands including never returning to Nigeria and admitting to allegations against them in a video for local media.
“It was pretty much being forced, otherwise you’re going to be thrown into a maximum security prison for God knows how long,” Kiran claimed.
Reading from a document outlining Otedola’s claims, Jyoti says Otedola “and his family were in fear of being kidnapped, death, bodily harm, injury to his character and reputation.”
Otedola alleged the girls were behind the defamatory website where posts about his infidelity, his wife and his family were made.
In the document, Otedola goes on to claim that once the slanderous post about him came out, he was messaged “from the website” by someone who threatened to kidnap him.
“Those were the charges,” she said. “Kidnapping was added in there after cyberbullying.”
Jyoti and Kiran said they’ve known Otedola “personally” and have “always been cordial,” but the attack against them came as a surprise.
“It became very publicized in Nigeria that we were the owners of this slanderous website,” Kiran said.
Once the news reached men the women were acquainted with, they say ransoms were out “for their heads.”
Now, despite maintaining a low profile since returning to Canada on Jan. 1, the women have decided to speak out and tell their side of the story.
“We just decided to speak because everyone thinks we’re missing or dead or worse,” Jyoti said.
They always wanted to put some nasty rumours to rest.
The sisters said they know the lavish lifestyle they portrayed on their social media accounts led some to question their motives but they reiterated that they’ve never blackmailed or extorted anyone, despite dating some of Nigeria’s wealthiest men.
“I think just dating someone in the oil and gas sector you get more opportunities to travel a bit more, you get to do things maybe you wouldn't have done,” Kiran said.
“The way the media reported it, they called us sex workers, prostitutes...I’ve never done anything like that. I’ve never blackmailed anyone, never extorted anyone,” Jyoti said.
“I think the stain on our reputation will never be cleared.”
The case against the sisters returns to court May 22 but authorities issued an arrest warrant in their names because they’ve missed several court appearances.
The women say they have no intention of returning back to Nigeria.
An immigration lawyer with Pace Law from Nigeria, Rachel Eta Brown, told CTV News Toronto that the women cannot be found criminally responsible if they don’t attend court. There is no existing treaty between Canada and Nigeria that allows for extradition between the two countries.
Global Affairs Canada would only confirm “consular services have been provided to the Canadian citizens who had been detained in Lagos, Nigeria.
With files from CTV's Tracy Tong