'Hacker' stole intimate photos, blackmailed victims

Krishneel Nath Maharaj. Photo: Supplied
Krishneel Nath Maharaj. Photo: Supplied
A serial scammer hacked a student’s social media account, stole intimate photos and videos and then posted them to the student’s Instagram account and sent them to his family and friends.

This came after Krishneel Nath Maharaj blackmailed the victim to pay him $2500 but never received the money.

But he didn’t stop there, the 33-year-old went on to torment the student in other ways, causing him huge distress for a prolonged period.

The student wasn’t Maharaj’s only victim, though. He also threatened to leak another woman’s nude photos if she did not provide him with sexual favours, and created fake Fijian passports in other people’s names and stole from them.

The Fijian national has now been jailed for one year and ten months and Judge Jane Farish said he would likely be deported once he had served one-third of his sentence.

On Wednesday, he appeared in Christchurch District Court for sentencing on charges of blackmail, theft, obtaining by deception, altering a document with intent to defraud, using a document for pecuniary advantage, unlawfully taking a motor vehicle, causing loss by deception and possession of a meth pipe.

He was also convicted of forgery and using forged documents after he created fake passports of people known to him from the Fijian community, including a family member whom he stole from.

Maharaj’s trail of deceit began in May 2019 when he contacted a person on Trade Me who was selling their vehicle, expressing his interest in purchasing it.

He went to the man’s house and showed him a screenshot of a fake bank transfer, indicating the money had been paid for the vehicle.

Believing the transaction was complete, the man gave Maharaj the car and he drove it to Auckland where he handed it over to an associate.

Maharaj repeated the act with a different victim, who was selling a $1600 television because their family was going through financial hardship.

Later, Maharaj was at Auckland’s SkyCity on August 27, 2022, when he stole a cellphone he found sitting next to a gaming machine.

When the partner of the man who owned the $1200 phone called it, Maharaj answered and agreed to give it back.

But the following day Maharaj phoned the woman through the Messenger app installed on her partner’s phone and threatened her.

He said: “You can’t find me, but I can find you” and that he would only give the phone back if she provided sexual favours to him.

Maharaj then threatened to distribute the intimate photos and videos of her and her partner that he had found on the phone, and, confirming he knew her address, that he would go to her house and force her into sexual acts.

The next day, Maharaj sent a message to the woman saying she looked “hot” in the photos and that he would back up everything from the phone to his device and then give it back - but first, he wanted to see her “in person the same way as in the pics”.

He described himself as a “hacker” and said he would post the woman’s photos and make her famous.

The couple went to the police and when later spoken to by officers, Maharaj claimed he was “doing a good thing” by keeping the phone safe and trying to return it.

About three months later, Maharaj hacked a student’s email account and used it to access his personal and business Instagram accounts.

That led to him discovering intimate photos and videos of the student and his girlfriend, who were not known to him, that had been saved in their messages to one another.

Maharaj threatened to post the visuals to the student’s Instagram accounts if he didn’t pay him $2500.

When the money wasn’t paid, Maharaj went through with his threat and not only posted them to the victim’s Instagram accounts but also sent them to his contacts.

Maharaj continued to torment the student by enacting a plan to have his father’s car towed and scrapped for parts.

While the father was able to recover his car before it was scrapped, he had to spend more than $3000 to have it repaired and released to him.

Between November 2022 and January 2023, while accessing the student’s email account and personal details, Maharaj obtained an ANZ bank card in his name and stole $1041 from him.

He also accessed the student’s university login and requested a new identification card, altering the details online to display Maharaj’s picture. However, the card was delivered to the student’s home address rather than Maharaj’s.

Finally, in May 2023, Maharaj and an associate produced fake Fijian passports, typically with their photos and the details of people known to them. Other passports were made-up identities.

They used the passports to gain or attempt to gain property or services such as phones and a tenancy lease.

Maharaj used a family member’s details to steal $2000 from them and acquired a phone and two sim cards, valued at $2198, using the name of someone else known to him. He also withdrew $1500 from that person’s bank account.

When police searched Maharaj’s house, they found a laptop with partially completed fake passports and methamphetamine pipes.

At sentencing, his victims sought reparation for the financial costs they incurred, but Maharaj was unable to pay them.

His lawyer Matt Smit acknowledged his client’s offending was prolonged but told the judge it was “out of character” as Maharaj had struggled with the loss of his stepfather and turned to meth.

Judge Farish said blackmail was one of the most “insidious of our crimes”, acknowledging the significant distress Maharaj’s offending caused his victims.

“You nearly destroyed their lives, these were people who had done you no harm.”

She refused to give Maharaj full credit for his guilty pleas, stating it would be “just wrong” as he initially denied the offending and was on the run for some time before police caught him.

By Emily Moorhouse
Open Justice multimedia journalist