Toronto

'Canadian Kardashians' received emergency travel documents to escape from Nigeria

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has shared details about two Canadian sisters who were detained in Nigeria at the end of 2016 and received consular support after being accused of trying to blackmail an oil billionaire.

Canada's Immigration Department says sisters got assistance after ‘physical safety’ was deemed at risk

Kiran (left) and Jyoti Matharoo were so consumed with their Instagram habits, they couldn't resist selfies while at CBC News in Toronto for an interview. (Stephanie Matteis)

The two Canadian sisters in Nigeria were in a situation of "extreme urgency," according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

And that's why the High Commission of Canada in Lagos issued emergency travel documents for the sisters, who had made international headlines after allegedly attempting to blackmail one of the world's richest men.

Taranjot and Kiranjot Matharoo, better known as Jyoti and Kiran, told CBC Toronto they went to the High Commission on Dec. 27, 2016, because they feared for their safety after they learned charges were pending against them.

The ordeal for the two Toronto women started with a gossip website, according to the Matharoo sisters, and ended with the intervention of the High Commission of Canada to get them out of Lagos on New Year's Day.

Jyoti reviews a selfie taken while at the CBC, while Kiran, left, looks over her shoulder. (Stephanie Matteis)

Jyoti and Kiran told CBC Toronto they had been frequent visitors to the West African country since 2008 after the older of the two, Jyoti, started seeing a Nigerian man.

What followed, according to Jyoti, 32, "felt like a dream or a movie or something."

From Toronto to Dubai

Their social media accounts and blog showed racy, jet-set and luxury-filled posts from places like Miami, Nassau and Dubai — trips they said were paid for by the men they were dating.

If anybody asked me, I say, "I date a wealthy man."- Jyoti   Matharoo

"When I first started travelling it was with the guy I was dating. He took me everywhere. We went to Malaysia, Argentina. He took me for polo," Jyoti said.

The sisters asked CBC not to reveal the identity of the man Jyoti was dating.

"He just changed my life, I guess. And I've always been upfront about that. If anybody asked me, I say, 'I date a wealthy man.'"

Born and raised in Toronto, the sisters said they attended high school at Emery Collegiate Institute in North York. Jyoti waited for her sister to graduate so they could attend Humber College together for fashion and design, but neither of them pursued careers.

"Even the very first trip we went on, we thought we'd go travel the world, get back home, get a regular job," Kiran said.

Their luxury lifestyle and the brand they were cultivating online came to an abrupt end in December 2016 when the sisters were taken into Nigerian police custody.

Their arrests made international headlines, with some media dubbing them the "Canadian Kardashians."

The Italian newspaper Il Giornale and Todo Noticias in Argentina attributed the attention to their physical similarities to women in the famous Hollywood family, and to allegations they were extorting one of the world's richest men.

The sisters told CBC Toronto that the oil billionaire Femi Otedola wrongly believed the sisters were behind a plot to post sexual photos and video of him online on a gossip site unless he paid them.

The arrest

According to the Matharoos, their troubles started without warning on Dec. 14 when police banged on their door at the Eko Hotel in Lagos.

The sisters said they were taken to a detention centre and held overnight until the next day, when police officers took them back to their hotel and took their passports, phones, laptop, a camera and a notebook.

After that, they said, they were taken to a hotel near the airport where they remained in police custody until their first court appearance nearly a week later.

That's when they learned they were accused of several offences, including cyber-stalking and running a gossip website that included sexual content "to bully, threaten and harass" and to "dubiously collect money," according to files from the Lagos state in the Yaba Magisterial District.

The co-accused was a Nigerian man, Babatunde Oyebade, who they allege created but did not own the website.

According to online registration sites, Naijagistlive.com was created on Dec. 21, 2015, and the IP location is currently based in New York. It has had eight different locations over two years, though its owner is not listed.

Jyoti Matharoo said she read an apology for a YouTube video off her phone with Kiran, left, in a Nigerian hotel room (right). (Jyoti Matharoo)

Politics Nigeria, which has images of the sisters inside a Lagos courthouse, posted "criminal undertaking" forms signed by a Taranjot Matharoo that say some 274 people, mainly in Africa, were cyberbullied and humiliated by the Naijagistlive website.

Out on bail

Kiran, 30, said she and her sister called the High Commission twice, once when still in custody and again after appearing in court and being granted bail.

She said they "practically begged" for help, but on the first call were told that with charges pending, the Canadian government couldn't intervene and they needed a lawyer.

They said the High Commission provided a list of lawyers who might be able to advise them. They called Supo Adebayo, who confirmed with CBC Toronto that he was on that list and did consult with the women about their case.

The Nigerian-Canadian man also told CBC Toronto he's not a lawyer in "good standing" in Canada, but is practising in Lagos.

After their court appearance, Adebayo said, he went to the High Commission to give "an opinion" on the documents before the court.

After reviewing the paperwork, he concluded the magistrate had been unable to proceed with charges at the court appearance on Dec. 23, 2016, and the magistrate granted bail while the charges were still under review, but there was no travel restriction to their release.

The confession video

We just helped them build their case against us.- Jyoti Matharoo

The Immigration Department said the women applied for emergency travel documents on Dec. 27.

Two days later the sisters posted a video on YouTube apologizing to the primary complainant, oil and gas billionaire Femi Otedola and his family.

"Like idiots we did the video," Jyoti said.

In the video, Jyoti stands next to her sister and reads an apology off her phone.

"We created a platform called Naijagistlive.com and .co where people can send in stories," she says, referring to the gossip site. She says they never received money from the venture.

They state on the video they are not under duress and will not contradict their account.

"We just helped them build their case against us, because all they wanted to do was humiliate us in the media by saying that we owned the website," Jyoti said.

Now in Canada, the sisters said the recording was to appease Otedola, the chair of Forte Oil PLC, who they allege had the power to stop them from leaving the country.

The High Commission issued documents for travel on a "discretionary basis," allowing the sisters to leave Lagos for Canada on Dec. 31, 2016.

In a statement, the Immigration Department confirmed it reviewed the "necessary documents" to ensure there were no restrictions on the women leaving Nigeria and also to determine that "there was a significant risk to their physical safety."

Kiran said she charged the only tickets available for Jan. 1, 2017 — business class with Air France, with a stop in France, during which they couldn't leave the airport. After landing in Toronto, they handed over their temporary travel documents.

About the Author

Stephanie Matteis is a senior reporter with CBC News, filing stories for television, radio & online. She's a pathological truthteller and storytelling junkie whose work appears on CBC Toronto, The National and Marketplace. Contact Stephanie: stephanie.matteis@cbc.ca and @CBCsteph on Twitter.

now