"I was ashamed, I was trying to figure it out."
Balesh Dhankhar, a prominent data expert in Australia, has been convicted of raping five Korean women he drugged and filmed on a hidden camera after luring them to his apartment using fake job ads.
New South Wales District Court heard the 43-year-old had a “very specific modus operandi” to lure the women – using the same hotel, cafe and Korean restaurant in almost all the rapes.
The rapes were committed between January and October 2018.
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 from 2019 to 2021.
Dhankhar filmed the rapes on a camera hidden in a clock or on his mobile phone.
He spiked drinks with the sleeping drug Stilnox or the date-rape drug Rohypnol. While the victims were unconscious, Dhankhar raped them multiple times at his studio apartment in the World Square complex in the Sydney CBD.
Dhankhar was arrested on October 21, 2018, after his fifth victim woke up while he was raping her. She sent a message to a friend while hiding in the bathroom.
In court, the fourth victim recalled waking up naked in Dhankhar’s bed while she was being raped.
She said: “He kept doing it when I woke up and I said can you stop, I thought we were just friends.
“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’.”
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 for a Korean-to-English translator to lure the women, all in their mid-20s.
The woman responded to the ad a day after arriving in Australia on October 8, 2018, and met Dhankhar at the Hilton three days later.
He asked her to dinner but she declined. The next day, she met up with him at a cafe, where he gave her a document to translate.
She accepted his dinner invitation and they went to a nearby Korean restaurant, where they split one or two bottles of soju.
The woman said she felt fine after the restaurant.
The data expert offered her a lift home but claimed he needed to get his car keys from his flat. When they arrived, he offered her red wine.
They sat drinking wine and watching Korean music videos. Dhankhar then taught her salsa dancing.
She told the court: “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.
“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 the rape, the woman said she only had flashes of memory.
She said: “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.”
After arriving at the hostel in the early hours of the morning, she vomited.
At 4 am, Dhankhar wished her a good night and said she should have stayed at his flat.
The woman said: “I was ashamed, I was trying to figure it out.
“I was thinking maybe I was drunk or maybe he put something in my wine, I was trying to guess how it could happen.”
In the following days, the woman and Dhankhar exchanged text messages while she tried to figure out what happened.
She told him she was in an “unnormal state” that night and she wasn’t sure if he noticed it.
The woman wrote: “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.”
Dhankhar claimed they “both flowed with emotions” and he “took full responsibility” for that, and he didn’t want things to be “awkward”.
She initially gave the data expert the benefit of the doubt and blamed herself for what happened.
The woman told him they should just be friends and rejected 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.
A few weeks later, another woman responded to his ad and the pair met at the Hilton on October 21, 2018, followed by lunch at another nearby Korean restaurant.
Despite her telling him that she was not interested in more than a professional relationship, Dhankhar convinced her to see a view of the Sydney Opera House from his balcony.
He gave her a glass of wine. She soon felt dizzy and went to the bathroom where she sent a friend a screenshot of the location.
She wrote: “Sister, I feel very intoxicated, however slightly different kind of intoxication. I don’t know what I should do, sister…
“I am different drunk. I am not normal drunk and I am worried myself. [He] keeps trying to kiss me… I f**ked up.”
Once she emerged from the bathroom, Dhankhar tried to get her to dance but she was too tired and had double vision.
The court heard: “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.
“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”.
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.
Dhankhar was arrested after 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 – he set up ‘interviews’ at the Hilton Hotel, invited them to dinner before taking them to his apartment.
He drugged his first known victim at the Korean restaurant on January 25, 2018. Other victims were drugged at his flat.
Speaking about the first victim, Ms Nightingale said:
“She began to feel strange and dizzy, something she never experienced before from drinking soju.
“The last thing she remembers is being at the counter of the restaurant and the accused holding her up.”
The next 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 the Korean messaging app Kocowa.
However, police later found videos revealing that Dhankhar raped her six times that night, all while she was unconscious and unresponsive.
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 realise she had been raped and only reported it after she was contacted by detectives in 2020.
Ms Nightingale told the court Dhankhar “had a particular sexual interest in young Korean women”.
Police discovered a detailed spreadsheet where there were coded notes about his victims, with a column labelled ‘action’ describing how far the sexual activity went – those he raped were at ‘fourth base’.
Police also discovered 47 videos of Dhankhar having consensual and non-consensual sex with Korean women on his computer, catalogued under their names.
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.
The data expert pleaded not guilty, claiming the five women consented to sex and to being filmed.
However, he was convicted of all charges and will be sentenced at a later date.