A former ABC contractor has been found guilty of raping five young women he drugged and filmed on a hidden camera after luring them to his apartment using fake job ads.
Balesh Dhankhar had faced trial over 39 charges including 13 counts of rape committed between January and October 2018.
On Monday a jury found the 43-year-old data expert guilty of all charges in the New South Wales District Court sitting in Sydney’s Downing Centre complex.
The jury heard Dhankhar had a ‘very specific modus operandi’ to ensnare the women – using the same hotel, café, and Korean restaurant in almost all the rapes.
Prosecutors said he spiked glasses of wine and other drinks with tablets of the sleeping drug Stilnox or infamous date-rape drug Rohypnol.
Dhankhar filmed the rapes on a camera hidden in a clock he bought on eBay, or on his mobile phone, which were both recovered by police.
Balesh Dhankhar has been found guilty of drugging and raping five young Korean women he filmed on a hidden camera after luring them to his Sydney apartment with a fake job ad
When the women were unconscious, Dhankhar raped them multiple times at his studio apartment in the World Square complex in the Sydney CBD.
A detailed spreadsheet discovered by police recorded coded notes about each of his victims, with a column labelled ‘action’ describing how far the sexual activity went – those he raped were at ‘fourth base’.
The jury was also shown videos of Dhankhar having consensual sex with other Korean women, but allegedly secretly recording them with the hidden camera.
Police discovered 47 videos of Dhankhar having sex with Korean women on his computer, catalogued under their names.
He was arrested on October 21, 2018, after his fifth victim woke up while he was raping her, and sent messages to a friend while hiding in the bathroom.
Dhankhar pleaded not guilty, claiming all five women consented to sex, and to being filmed, and faced a lengthy trial in the Downing Centre.
Photos tendered in court showed Dhankhar’s studio apartment at the World Square complex in the Sydney CBD with a clock sitting on the cabinet next to his TV, pointed towards the bed
He has spent the past more than four years fighting the charges, unsuccessfully trying to have his name suppressed.
The ‘lead data visualisation consultant’ worked for Sydney Trains during all the rapes, and was hired by Pfizer and the ABC for one-year contracts while on bail in 2019 to 2021.
He is a prominent member of Australia’s Indian community, being the founding president of the OFBJP – an Australian support group for India’s ruling party.
When the fourth of his victims bravely told her story in court she described waking up naked on Dhankhar’s bed while she was being raped.
‘He kept doing it when I woke up and I said can you stop, I thought we were just friends,’ she said.
‘I remember I started to cry and told him I wanted to go home… he was trying to soothe me down “it’s OK, don’t cry, you’re OK…”‘
This plain black cube displayed the time in a classic digital readout with buttons on the back for setting the alarm
The court heard Dhankhar created a fake company called The Asia Partnership, named after a real firm he used to work for – but without their knowledge.
He posted job ads on Gumtree for a Korean to English translator in late 2017 and through 2018 to lure in the women, all aged in their mid-20s.
The woman, who can’t be named, responded to the ad a day after arriving in Australia on October 8, 2018, and met Dhankhar at the Hilton three days later.
She said he asked her to dinner and she declined, but met up with him at a café the next day, where he gave her a document to translate.
This time she accepted his dinner invitation and they went to Koibito, a Korean restaurant nearby, and split one or two bottles of soju.
The woman said she felt fine after the restaurant and back in Korea she regularly drank with her friends where she could down three bottles by herself and only feel tipsy.
Dhankhar offered her a lift home from Koibito but claimed he needed to get his car keys from his flat, and offered her red wine when they arrived.
They sat on his coach sipping the wines and watching Korean music videos, then he taught her salsa dancing. That was the last thing she remembered.
‘I don’t remember after that… dancing is the last thing I remember. I felt fine, but suddenly I don’t remember anything, like I blacked out,’ she told the court.
Dhankhar recorded the rapes on a camera hidden in a clock he bought on eBay, or on his mobile phone, which were recovered by police
‘It was very weird. When you’re drunk or sick you would [start] to feel uncomfortable. I was fine, then I remember nothing.’
After waking up to being raped, the woman said she only had flashes of memory – of being in the building’s car park and the ride home – but not of how she got there or putting her clothes back on.
‘I felt like something isn’t OK, something isn’t right, I was trying to behave normally as I didn’t want to get in trouble any more… but my body wasn’t ready to be normal,’ she told the court.
The woman vomited immediately after arriving at the hostel in the early hours of the morning and again later on, then was too sick to move the next day.
Dhankhar texted her after 4am wishing her good night and saying she should have slept over at his flat.
‘I was ashamed, I was trying to figure it out,’ she told the court.
‘I was thinking maybe I was drunk or maybe he put something in my wine, I was trying to guess how it could happen.’
The woman and Dhankhar exchanged numerous text messages in following days while she tried to work out what happened.
She told him she was in an ‘unnormal state’ that night and she wasn’t sure if he noticed it.
Dhankhar pleaded not guilty to all charges, claiming the five women consented to sex and to being filmed
‘I don’t understand why we did that… first time we can call it accident, that’s it. I don’t want to make second time,’ she wrote.
Dhankhar claimed the ‘both flowed with emotions’ and he ‘took full responsibility’ for that, and he didn’t want thing to be ‘awkward’.
The woman said she initially gave Dhankhar the benefit of the doubt and called it an ‘accident’ because he seemed like a good man and she blamed herself for what happened.
‘At that time I still thought it could be may fault, maybe I was drunk or my body wasn’t ready for drink… or maybe I shouldn’t have gone to his apartment,’ she told the court.
‘I didn’t know at that time he did something. I was trying to get over it, I didn’t want to keep thinking about it, or I wouldn’t move forward.’
She told him they should just be friends, and turned down his offer to help her move into a rental home because she didn’t want to owe him anything.
But she said ‘the conversation was getting frustrating, I was telling him the same things over and over again’ and she didn’t think he was a nice person anymore.
Dhankhar wrote in his spreadsheet action column next to her name ‘pipe. Base 4’ with a note that they got confused after base 4 and to ‘take it slow and bring her in’.
Just weeks later, Dhankhar raped his fifth victim – but this one was to be his undoing.
After that woman responded to his ad, the pair met at the Hilton on October 21, 2018, followed by lunch at another Korean nearby restaurant, NaruOne.
Despite her telling Dhankhar she wasn’t interested in him as more than a colleague, he convinced her to see the view of the Sydney Opera House from his balcony.
He gave her a glass of wine at the flat, and the court heard she soon felt dizzy and retreated to the bathroom where she sent a friend a screenshot of location.
‘Sister, I feel very intoxicated, however slightly different kind of intoxication. I don’t know what I should do, sister…’ she wrote.
‘I am different drunk. I am not normal drunk and I am worried myself. [He] keeps trying to kiss me… I f**ked up.’
The court heard once the woman emerged from the bathroom, Dhankhar tried to get her to dance but she was too tired and had double vision.
‘He pulled her up and tried to dance with her, holding her up because she couldn’t stand well. He started to kiss her face, neck, and ears but she told him no,’ the court heard.
‘He said “you don’t want to kiss me because I’m ugly”, She tried to resist but had no strength.’
The next thing she remembered was waking up to Dhankhar trying to have sex with her.
She told him ‘it’s a crime and you don’t even wear a condom’ as he struggled to penetrate her and she again lost consciousness.
When she woke up again, she dressed and tried to go home, but the walk to the door was ‘painful, difficult, and endless’.
The court heard Dhankhar drove her home and she cried uncontrollably and vomited until her roommate called the police.
Zoipidem, the active ingredient in Stilnox, was found in her blood and urine samples along with only a small amount of alcohol.
A jury heard Dhankhar had a ‘very specific modus operandi’ to ensnare and rape the women – using the same hotel, café, and Korean restaurant in almost all the rapes
Her report led to Dhankhar’s arrest when his home was raided and police discovered Stilnox tablets and rohypnol, both of which he had a prescription for.
Prosecutor Kate Nightingale told the jury how all five of Dhankhar’s rapes followed almost exactly the same pattern.
After they responded, he set up an interview at the Hilton Hotel in the Sydney CBD, where he asked them about their lives and gave them information about the ‘job’.
Dhankhar then invited the women to dinner at Koibito, where they drank soju, wine, or Korean drink makkoli.
The court heard he drugged his first known victim there on January 25, 2018, but on future occasions administered the sedative at his home instead.
Ms Nightingale told the jury he convinced them to come to his flat ‘using a variety of excuses or ruses’.
Dhankhar was still refining his chillingly similar routine with his first known victim, who met him on January 25, 2018.
This time he drugged her at Koibito instead of waiting until he got her to come home.
‘She began to feel strange and dizzy, something she never experienced before from drinking soju,’ Ms Nightingale told the jury.
‘The last thing she remembers is being at the counter of the restaurant and the accused holding her up.’
Next thing she remembered was waking up in his bed wearing her jumpsuit but the belt was missing.
Since she was clothed, she did not think the pair had sex, and continued to speak with him about the job, exchanging contacts on Korean messaging app Kocowa.
However, police later found videos showing Dhankhar rape her six times that night, all while she was unconscious and unresponsive.
Days later on January 29 they went to Hard Rock Café in Darling Harbour and then back to his apartment, where he gave her ice cream and wine.
Dhankhar then tried to dance and kiss her while she repeatedly refused, and was raped yet again.
Just as the first night, when she woke up with clothes on she didn’t realised she had been raped and only reported to after she was contacted by detectives in 2020.
Dhankhar faced 13 charges of rape, six of administering an intoxicating substance with intent to enable himself to rape, 17 of recording intimate videos without consent, and three of indecent assault
Two other women told the court eerily similar accounts, one of whom said she pushed Dhankhar away when he tried to dance with her and kiss her because she had a boyfriend.
When she woke up after being drugged and raped, the woman saw a condom wrapper and felt pain, leading her to realise they had sex.
She called her boyfriend in tears saying she didn’t know where she was and had to break up with him because of what happened.
Another woman who woke up in his bed naked after being raped, and refusing his offer and breakfast because she wanted to go home.
The ‘action’ column for her on Dhankhar’s spreadsheet read ‘base four’ but a note read ‘got angry on base 4, doesn’t want to continue, close’.
Ms Nightingale told the court Dhankhar ‘had a particular sexual interest in young Korean women’.
She said he satisfied this by ‘procuring women from false job advertisement on Gumtree, by lying to them, by pretending that he was interviewing them for a job so that he could commit sexual acts on them and make intimate recordings of them and do so whilst they were under the influence of a substance’.
‘At no time in these encounters were [the women] freely and voluntarily agreeing to these acts,’ Ms Nightingale said.
The court heard Dhankhar accessed and bookmarked large amount of pornography with Asian women and even more specifically with Koreans.
Videos included women who were unconscious or asleep such as ‘Korean girl sleeping f**ked by boy’.
Dhankhar faced 13 charges of rape, six of administering an intoxicating substance with intent to enable himself to rape, 17 of recording intimate videos without consent, and three of indecent assault.
He will be sentenced at a later date.