Part 1: The Writer’s story
On the afternoon of Wednesday, August 16, 2023, my husband received a call from his acquaintance Amar Singh—a women’s-rights activist, art patron, film producer, and Indian prince—who asked him to come to Soho House’s 180 Strand location in London as soon as he could. He had a wild story to tell him.
It concerned Amar’s relationship with a young Swedish woman named Liza-Johanna Holgersson, whom he had met online and dated on and off for the past two years. They had broken up on August 6 when, he claimed, he had discovered she had been living a secret life.
She had, he said, been a grifter, a con woman, taking him and multiple other men for a ride. Amar thought it was so extraordinary a story he was already thinking about turning it into a movie or TV series and discussed it at length with my husband. But for now, he wanted someone to write about it. He asked my husband if he thought I’d be interested.
I leapt at the chance, but what I thought would be a cautionary tale of online dating among the 0.1 percent became something else: a story of threats, abuse, theft, accusations of coercion, non-disclosure agreements, secretively recorded audio, cease-and-desist letters from real lawyers, cease-and-desist letters from fake lawyers, spoof e-mails, fake receipts, impersonation, intimidation, multiple retractions, and a serious attempt to manipulate the press in a quest for personal revenge. By the end of my research, I had twice been offered bribes to stop writing Amar’s story. Both times they had been offered to me by Amar.
A Perfect Prince
You can’t miss Amar. He’s a dashing man, with a great head of hair. He’s 34 years old and, he would tell people, an Indian prince—the Kanwar (a title that simply means “heir”) of Kapurthala. Amar says he went to the prestigious English boarding school Charterhouse, and although he calls London his home, he often spends extended periods of time in New York. He told me that the bulk of his wealth comes from his parents: his mother is a self-made property developer, while his father is a member of the wealthy Kapurthala royal family. The only blemish on his record, he said, was that he had dropped out of Harvard.
However, what he is best known for is his work on L.G.B.T.Q.+ and women’s rights. He’s appeared on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list, for his work championing women artists; in Gay Times, for his work fighting gay conversion therapy in India; and in The New York Times, as “The Indian Prince Who Supports Gay Rights and the Arts.” He appeared in Town & Country’s list of the Top 50 Bachelors of 2018, and Vanity Fair has profiled him no less than three times in the last four years, praising him for lending his voice in the battle to legalize homosexuality in India. It dubbed him a “Royal Rebel.”
Amar and I first made contact on the phone on August 23. He was in Ibiza on holiday, and he told me what he claimed were the highlights—or lowlights—of his relationship with Liza: that she had lied about being from a wealthy family; that she had cheated on him with other men, in places including Dubai and St. Tropez; that she had tried to get him to transfer $50,000 to her under the false pretense of wanting to donate to charities; that she had stolen her roommate’s rent money in New York.
Their relationship, he said, finally imploded in early August, and he claimed that when Liza had moved out of his apartment she had taken with her a signed, first-edition copy of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which had cost him nearly $10,000 at auction. He said he had never met anyone more similar to Rosamund Pike’s character in Gone Girl.
Amar and I eventually met in person, at his apartment in London’s Chelsea neighborhood, on August 25 and 26. On the first day, he answered the door of the redbrick Victorian building in a crisp white T-shirt. He had an expensive-smelling candle already lit on his large dining-room table. He gave me a tour of his apartment, past paintings hanging on and leaning against the walls, and he showed me the bookshelf that had once held the missing copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
An Assouline coffee-table book called Vital Voices: 100 Women Using Their Power to Empower was prominently displayed on a console table. Amar said he had been involved with Vital Voices, a nonprofit founded by Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright, to help encourage and enable women leaders, and I had seen pictures of him on Instagram posing next to Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, and Diane von Furstenberg during an event he had attended in May 2022.
When we finally began talking about Liza, Amar’s voice would crescendo with emotion like that of a Shakespearean actor. It was clear to me he was injured, outraged, aggrieved. He couldn’t believe that the world harbored someone who could do so many people so much wrong, especially to someone like him, who had dedicated his life to fighting injustice of all kinds. He contrasted the story of Liza’s depravity and deceit with his position as the descendant of a long line of Indian activists. But the story he told me was very much of the 21st century.
He said he had never met anyone more similar to Rosamund Pike’s character in Gone Girl.
It all began—Amar said—in February 2020. He was 30 years old when he swiped right on the picture of a 20-year-old elfin-looking blonde named Liza-Johanna Holgersson. His dating profile highlighted his charity work on behalf of L.G.B.T.Q.+ and women’s rights. Liza immediately messaged him back, “I’m impressed.”
Amar told me he was similarly impressed that such an attractive young woman would be interested in his human-rights work. “She laid it on thick,” Amar says. “I think she mentioned something about Gloria Steinem.” A date was quickly arranged.
Amar told me that they met at Soho House on Dean Street. Liza arrived wearing all black, carrying an Yves Saint Laurent bag and a copy of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. “I had already read it but pretended I hadn’t, and asked for her opinion,” Amar says. “The whole thing felt like an act … but she had certainly read the book.”
Liza spoke with an American accent, with only a slight hint of Swedish. (“She sounded very cute—she pronounced her j’s like y’s,” says Amar.) The conversation soon turned to Amar’s charity work. He was surprised to hear Liza speak so knowledgeably about the Indian feminist and poet Kamla Bhasin, not to mention the actress and gay-rights activist Rose McGowan, whom Amar said was a friend of his.
Liza, he told me, had been accepted at Brown University in the United States but was taking a gap year abroad. She was now renting an apartment in London, paid for by her father, a Swedish food-company executive who was a member of the wealthy, industrialist Wallenberg family. Liza said she didn’t really like talking about her father, who had left her mother for a younger woman. She described him as “evil.” “She said that’s why she doesn’t cheat,” recalled Amar, “that cheating is disgusting.”
Amar says he and Liza saw each other five more times. They played indoor golf, went to a virtual-reality “resort,” and dined at the Chiltern Firehouse, one of Amar’s favorite spots. They opened up to each other—Liza told him she was deaf in one ear—and they had fun and hooked up, even though they had decided not to date each other exclusively.
Then the coronavirus hit. Amar retreated to his family home in Windsor, just west of London, but he could see from Liza’s Instagram that she was traveling far and wide, from Paris, to London, to Dubai, in the way that trust-fund babies often do.
One night, toward the end of 2020, Amar said, Liza called him in tears. She was back in her hometown of Gothenburg, and her mother’s breast cancer had returned. Feeling terrible for her, Amar bought her a pass for Hagabadet Haga, a luxury spa near her home, where he thought she could unwind.
She was traveling far and wide, from Paris, to London, to Dubai, in the way that trust-fund babies often do.
Then another teary call came, saying a friend of hers was suffering domestic abuse. Could Amar help? But when he offered to speak to the friend and put her in touch with lawyers, Liza stopped responding, and when Amar looked at her Instagram he saw that she was partying at wine bars in Gothenburg. Confused by her callous attitude, and with his ego somewhat bruised, he blocked her on social media.
Nearly two years later, in May 2022, Amar said, he received an e-mail with the subject line “Demonic Apology.” It was from Liza. She wrote, “[You] gave me a wake-up call about how my actions affect others in a way I strive never to do again.... I am better than ever, thriving, evolving, and still up to no good, but I want to ask for your forgiveness and apologize.” Amar played it cool, waiting to respond until October, but soon they were communicating frequently again.
In March 2023, Amar said, he had moved to New York for a few months while conducting art-related business when Liza texted him and asked if he was in the city. She said she was now studying at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and living in an apartment in Chelsea with another Swedish friend, called Erika (not her real name).
Amar met her at Temple Bar, a popular wood-paneled saloon, where she revealed that her mother had died of cancer. That wasn’t all. Her father had cut her off financially, she told Amar, because she had reported him to the police for failing to pay her late mother’s alimony.
However, a few days after their reunion, Amar saw someone whom Liza referred to as her mother on her Instagram. Confused, he asked Liza who she was. Liza patiently explained that the woman was in fact her stepmother—her first stepmother, not the one her father had recently married—who had looked after her while her biological mother was ill. They had grown so close that Liza now referred to her simply as her mother.
It was odd, but family dynamics in wealthy families often are, and Amar found himself increasingly attracted to Liza, whom he saw as a charming damsel frequently in distress. They agreed to see each other exclusively, and a string of dates followed in the spring of 2023.
Amar said that Liza wanted to become a philanthropist like him, but specifically involved in women’s causes. “Every day she was talking about these issues, like, I really can’t wait to get involved and support you,” he says. She was just waiting for her father to free up her inheritance. Indeed, Amar claimed, when she heard that Amar was planning to collaborate with the crusading Indian lawyer Ravi Kant on a new anti-trafficking charity in India, Liza asked him if he could loan her $50,000 to make a founding donation to the charity.
She said she wanted to begin building a name for herself as an activist and promised she would pay back the money over the following months. Amar said he rebuffed her. It wasn’t that the large sum aroused suspicion—Liza had told him she had donated similar amounts to charities supporting abortion rights, trans rights, and Black Lives Matter in the past—but he thought she should take this opportunity to mend her relationship with her father and in doing so gain access to all her financial resources. Liza was aggravated by his refusal but didn’t press him.
Amar told me he had been planning to return to London for his birthday celebration in June, and it was a pleasant surprise when Liza revealed she was going to London, too. She had landed a summer job at Hugo Boss to help with their new store openings, she told him. Amar told me he invited her to live in his Chelsea apartment for the duration of her time there.
It was odd, but family dynamics in wealthy families often are.
In London, Amar said, Liza would wake up at 7:30 A.M., put on a pair of Manolo Blahniks and a tweed Self-Portrait jacket, and head to work, laptop in hand. At home, Amar caught glimpses of her toiling away on spreadsheets and poring over Hugo Boss–branded documents.
But, he told me, while Liza seemed poised and industrious, she was also high-strung. She would freak out if her phone rang and Amar picked it up to give to her, and when she went to the corner shop to pick up a new vape, she would often disappear for an hour or more. She blamed this behavior on her A.D.H.D.
Amar said that on a night out at the Soho Hotel, they ran into an acquaintance of Amar’s who was an executive at Hugo Boss. He asked Liza what floor of the office she worked on, as he had been there that morning. Liza replied that she must have just missed him because she was getting coffee on the ground floor. “Liza was awesome,” says Amar. “He started asking her questions, and she was able to answer every one.” Not long afterwards Liza announced she had received permission from Hugo Boss to work from home.
Amar said when his 34th birthday arrived it was a disaster. Thirty people showed up to dinner at Louie, a New Orleans–style restaurant in Covent Garden. Amar was eager to introduce Liza to his friends, and he reminded them that if Liza was unable to understand their questions, it was because she was deaf in one ear.
Coincidentally one of Amar’s guests had also attended F.I.T., and she talked to Liza about her time there. But in the midst of the conversation, Liza’s mood suddenly turned sour, and she asked to leave. Amar tried to calm her down, complimenting her on the white dress she was wearing and jokingly calling her “Snow White,” but, he said, Liza snapped: “‘You’re so insensitive! You know coke addiction is something I’ve battled with in the past.’”
It was a bizarre eruption, Amar explained, and the first time he had heard anything about addiction. “Eventually she stormed off,” says Amar, “and I had to leave with her.”
The day after the party, Liza continued to behave erratically. She told Amar that she had to go to Italy immediately to attend the wedding of a childhood friend. Amar was used to Liza indulging whims on an impulse—she had A.D.H.D. But, according to Amar, she wasn’t planning to visit a childhood friend at all.
Enter the Others
“I was immediately infatuated with her,” Jon (name changed) told me. Jon is in his 30s and a businessman. I had been put in touch with him by Amar. He first met Liza at a Halloween party in New York in 2022, when she was on a date with one of his friends. She had told Jon that her father was a Swedish billionaire who controlled frozen-food production in Scandinavia. One of the coincidences that drew them together was that Liza had attended an extravagant wedding to which many of Jon’s friends had also been invited.
They started going out, but soon Jon felt he was being used. He told me Liza would send him links to clothes with a hint that he should buy them for her, and one day she asked him to lend her $50,000 to buy a limited-edition Hermès bag. “She said with $50,000 she could go to Paris, buy the bag, and flip it for $90,000. I would get 10 percent of the profits.” Jon didn’t take it seriously. “I laughed,” he recalls, and Liza didn’t appear to mind, quickly dropping the subject.
According to Jon, the pair’s biggest argument came while they were looking for something to watch on TV. While flicking past the show Inventing Anna, a fictionalized account of the life of Anna Delvey—who had pretended to be a wealthy heiress to con rich New Yorkers—Jon said, “What a piece of shit that girl is.” Liza was incensed. “‘No, she’s awesome!’ she said. ‘She’s the best.’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about? She’s a con artist.’”
Eventually they split up after, Jon says, Liza offered to pay him $20,000 if he married her, so that she could get a green card. They may have separated, but it wasn’t to be the end. In June 2023, Jon ran into Liza at a club. She told him she was moving to London, and he told her he had an invitation to a friend’s wedding in Tuscany later that month. Why not join him there? Liza agreed, Jon told me. That was the “wedding of a childhood friend” she had told Amar about, but ultimately she ended up missing her flight.
Perhaps it was because the recent drama with Amar made it too difficult to pull off. Or perhaps it was because Amar suggested something better. Whatever the case, Jon said that she told him a London club owner was “holding her passport hostage.” Jon, jilted at the Tuscan wedding, deleted her number and blocked her on social media.
She would freak out if her phone rang and Amar picked it up to give to her.
According to Amar, instead of going to Italy, Liza decided to join him on an impromptu trip to Paris, staying at the Hotel Costes, near the Place de la Concorde. But at dinner that night she abruptly told him she now needed to go to Bali. Amar recalled he was taken aback. What about their relationship? What about Hugo Boss? Didn’t Liza need the salary now that her father had cut her off? Liza retorted that she wasn’t happy in her job and wanted to quit.
The argument carried over to Bonnie, a sleek retro-futurist bar and lounge where they had agreed to meet Amar’s Swedish friend, Lisa Hjelt, a product designer who was in Paris for Vivatech, a technology conference at which Elon Musk was speaking. Amar, trying to cheer Liza up, mentioned that Hjelt was a close friend of a member of the Wallenberg family, but this only seemed to darken Liza’s mood.
When they arrived, Hjelt noticed something was wrong. Liza was so icy, and the mood so tense, that it was almost a relief when she and Amar left after 15 minutes. Still, Hjelt was happy for Amar. “[Swedish people] are usually pretty down to earth and not very shallow,” says Hjelt. “London can be so shallow.” Later, she sent a photo of Liza to her Wallenberg friend. He said that he had never seen her before.
According to Amar, Liza didn’t mention Bali again, and back in London the couple attended the annual Serpentine Summer Party on June 27, a glittering event attracting stars from the art and fashion worlds. Here Amar introduced Liza to Michael Bloomberg as well as Anna Wintour, whom he had met through his connection with Huma Abedin. Things seemed to be going well until Liza said she was going to the bathroom. She didn’t return for over half an hour.
She was in fact, so Amar told me, going to meet a sixtysomething hedge-fund manager named Carlo (name changed), whom she had connected with earlier that month on seeking.com, a dating Web site notorious for matching older men with prospective sugar babies.
They had met in person the day before in Notting Hill, while Liza was supposed to be at Hugo Boss. She had invited Carlo to the Serpentine party, which she said she would be attending with her gay friend—Amar. “He’s very protective over me,” she had warned.
When Liza finally returned to Amar’s side, they went for a drink at the Chiltern Firehouse. Liza, in a fit of perversity, texted Carlo and asked him to join them there, introducing him to Amar as someone she had met at Paris Fashion Week. Neither man guessed the other’s true role in her life, and over a long evening of cocktails and champagne the three got on very well.
By now, according to Amar, the deceptions were coming thick and fast. On July 17, Amar took his mother on a birthday trip to La Colombe d’Or, the five-star restaurant and inn in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, near Nice. Liza had excused herself from the trip, saying she had to go to Sweden. Her father was being put on trial for insider trading, an investigation, she said, which she had triggered when she had reported him to the police for nonpayment of alimony.
However, on the very same day that Amar had flown to Nice on his way to the Colombe d’Or, Liza flew to join Carlo in St. Tropez. They were just an hour and a half away from each other when, that night, she sent a message to Amar saying that she loved and missed him.
“London can be so shallow.”
Amar said alarm bells began to ring when he received a text from Erika, Liza’s roommate in New York, saying she had been trying to find Liza to get her to pay her share of the rent on their apartment. She had contacted Liza’s mother, who had alerted the Swedish police that her daughter was missing.
Amar had believed that Liza was staying with her grandmother in Sweden during her father’s trial. He texted Liza, asking what was going on. From St. Tropez, Liza told Amar that she had actually committed herself to a psychiatric hospital in Sweden. She had lied to everyone, she explained, because she was ashamed of her deteriorating mental health. On July 21, she left Carlo and hurried back home to Gothenburg.
Five days later, Amar said, he traveled to Gothenburg for a pre-arranged trip to meet her parents. Liza, now out of the hospital, booked a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant for the two of them and her beloved stepmother. Liza “was so much the navigator of the conversation,” Amar recalls. “There was one moment when Liza needed to use the restroom and even joked, ‘I don’t want to leave you two together.’ So her mum went to the restroom with her.”
Liza also arranged a brief visit for Amar to meet her father at a birthday party for her half-sister at her father’s simple home in the quiet suburb of Mölnlycke. Amar was surprised at the modest surroundings, considering Liza had told him her father was a titan of industry.
Liza behaved coldly toward her father—lending some credence to her story of strained relations between them—but Amar said he had a nice time, playing Ping-Pong and eating cake with the family, and reasoned that even the wealthiest Swedes are unassuming people. “They’re not ostentatious like in London,” Amar says. “They drive Volvos.”
However, when he returned to London, one of his friends, Rowan (name changed), took him aside. Rowan had spent a fair amount of time with the couple that summer, and things weren’t adding up. How could a student from F.I.T. land such a senior role at Hugo Boss? How was it that her father was so powerful and wealthy, and yet no one in their circle had heard of him? Why was she always mentioning her mother’s death, even to people she had just met?
“When you date someone, you want to believe they are the person they say they are,” Rowan told me. “And then, even when you start seeing chinks in the armor, you still want to believe they’re honest. But as a friend, I was seeing this, and I was like, ‘You know what—I really don’t believe this girl.’”
Amar agreed to hire a private investigator to look into Liza’s past. At that point, another of Amar’s New York friends contacted him and said he should speak to someone who also knew Liza.
It was Jon.
“When you date someone, you want to believe they are the person they say they are.”
Liza’s two boyfriends eventually connected over the phone, in early August. Despite having dated the same woman, seemingly for much of the same time, they got on well and were happy to compare notes on Liza’s deceptions, said Amar.
Soon afterwards, the private investigator revealed what he had discovered. Liza’s father was actually an account manager for a Swedish food company. Her biological mother was very much alive and worked as a teacher. She was the woman who had been presented to Amar as Liza’s stepmother.
Amar initially thought that someone had paid Liza to target him. “This has happened in India before,” he told me, “attempts to defame me.” He confronted Liza about the affair with Jon, yet even now he was still willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Amar said he would rally his lawyers and sue Jon for slander if Jon was lying about having a sexual affair with her.
Frightened, perhaps, at the possibility of legal consequences, Liza broke down and confessed everything. She wasn’t part of the Wallenberg family, she never went to F.I.T., she had never had a job at Hugo Boss. It was, according to Amar, lie after lie after lie.
Amar said she then confessed to her affairs with Jon and Carlo, and others too, and all of her erratic behavior began to make sense. Her lavish trip to Dubai at the height of the pandemic had been at the invitation of a jewelry designer. The outburst at Amar’s birthday party had been caused by her seeing another man at the restaurant with whom she was in a relationship. She told him she had even brought Carlo back to Amar’s apartment one night while Amar was away and told Carlo it was hers, the art included. Amar told me that he thought it was a last effort to win him back with a newfound commitment to truthfulness.
“This has happened in India before,” he told me, “attempts to defame me.”
Amar said he had heard enough. He told her to leave his apartment immediately, so she packed her things and left. The final insult, Amar said, was that she allegedly took with her the signed first-edition copy of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
That was the last time Amar said he saw her. I took this to mean that this was the last contact of any kind he had had with her. He told me she had deactivated all of her social-media profiles and that he had no idea where she was or what she was doing. When I asked Amar for her phone number and e-mail, the number he gave me didn’t work, and I got no response to the e-mails I sent. I found an old account of hers on X (the site formerly known as Twitter) and an old Pinterest account, but not much else. My texts and WhatsApp messages went unanswered.
Throughout the month that I worked on the story, Amar couldn’t have been a more cooperative source. He put me in touch with friends of his who had met Liza, as well as Jon and another of her lovers, Mark (name changed), the thirtysomething C.E.O. of a tech company who had impulsively flown Liza out to Dubai for five days in early 2022. She had then asked him for a loan of $20,000, supposedly to pay her rent, which he didn’t see again. (He has since started legal action against her and has, he says, received $5,460 back.)
These other men all seemed to confirm Liza’s modus operandi, the way she inveigled her way into their lives and then made off with what she could.
Every day, at all hours, Amar would send me nuggets of evidence from the arsenal he had been stockpiling ever since Liza first confessed her lies. He sent me three audio clips of him interrogating Liza, trying to piece together her double life. In one of the clips Amar even suggests that her trip to St. Tropez with Carlo was part of a sex-trafficking ring—a subject that he was well acquainted with through his philanthropy.
He sent me screenshots of text conversations between him and Liza, Liza and Jon, and Liza and Carlo, which the other men had shared with him. He sent me pictures of Liza. He sent me a receipt from the auction house for the Truman Capote book and even sent me a screenshot of part of an e-mail conversation he was having with an officer from the Metropolitan Police, presumably to do with the theft.
He shared piles of information that he thought I should include in the story—or information he wanted to make sure I didn’t forget. He was pushy and peremptory, as if he felt he should be the last arbiter of the story, but he also made my job very easy. At the time I had no reason not to believe the characterization of Liza that he had given me, and the other men who had dated Liza confirmed her to be an extremely deceptive and avaricious woman.
It seemed as if Amar had taken upon himself the full-time job of a detective trying to uncover Liza’s crimes, as well as her network of boyfriends and victims, and finding sources willing to speak to me on the record. He seemed like a man obsessed.
He also appeared eager to take advantage of his romantic misfortune to turn my forthcoming article into a film. Indeed, my husband, who had facilitated our meeting, was more than a little excited himself. I, too, fantasized about the possibility of a future movie and joined Amar and my husband in a text chain discussing it.
He was pushy and peremptory, as if he felt he should be the last arbiter of the story.
The one problem was that I still had not managed to get in touch with Liza to see whether she contradicted Amar and the other men’s stories. In a last-gasp attempt, I sent a message to both her parents’ LinkedIn accounts. Shortly after I did so, I received a call from Amar.
“So you’ve been talking to Liza?” he said. I said no, I hadn’t, but he was convinced that I had. He said that Liza had finally made contact with him and that she was harassing him to the point where he had to change his number. She was threatening to travel to London and make life difficult for him.
Amar was agitated and rambling. He told me that Liza might have digitally altered recordings of him, and again suggested that Liza was in some way enabling sex trafficking by dating much older men. I couldn’t really understand what he was talking about, but as I listened to him I received an e-mail.
It was from Liza.
I told Amar I’d call him back.
Liza wanted to talk off the record, and we spoke for more than an hour. Five minutes after we hung up, Liza sent me three phone-call recordings via WhatsApp without any note attached, followed by a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) she said Amar had wanted her to sign.
The voice on the recordings sounded like Amar’s. What the voice said turned my world, and Amar’s story, upside down.
Alfred Demirjian, the founder and C.E.O. of TechFusion, has spent over 30 years in the field of digital forensics and data recovery. Based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, his clients have included NASA, the U.S. Army, and the F.B.I. Air Mail engaged Demirjian to see if he could verify that the voice on the three recordings belonged to Amar.
After days spent analyzing the recordings, and comparing the voice on them to authenticated recordings of Amar’s voice, Demirjian sent us a report that stated there was an 87.2 percent likelihood that the voice on the recordings belonged to Amar. “We conclude that it is the same person in all of the recordings, to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty.”
One reason we had to be so thorough is that, in the recordings, Amar says things that show him in a very different light to the public figure he has portrayed himself to be. He seems devastated by having been cheated on by Liza and is intent on going over every aspect of her deception. But as well as looking for understanding, it appears he is also looking for revenge.
On the first of the recordings, I heard Amar’s cold, clipped, private-school voice say, “Listen, you fat bitch, are you going to listen to me or not?”
Liza gives a meek “yes” in response.
“I know you’re too busy cheating on me, but you know how to get rid of your fucking belly fat—you can do crunches you know that, right? [Instead of] being the anorexic cunt that you are.”
He continues, “If you hang up on me, I’m going to make moves against your family. Do you want to hang up on me?”
“No,” says Liza.
“Are you going to continue listening to what I said?”
“Do you think you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve been with? Do you think you even rank in the top 50?” he asks. “Do you think you’re anything special?”
“You’re right about that. And so someone who’s so average thinks they can get away with this, with me … by lying about who you are and your personality … a fat, average-looking individual who I loved and cherished because of a fake personality?”
“If you hang up,” warns Amar, “a war is going to begin.”
In this conversation, Amar threatens Liza and her family with ruin. He says he will turn “the article”—the one that you are reading at this moment—into “an assassination,” presumably by making her out to be more criminal than she actually was. He says that she will be locked out of “Spain, Italy, Germany” as well as the U.K. and the U.S.A., unless he “reverses that.” “Maybe some African countries you can go to,” he says with scorn.
He finally declares, “This is happening. I have repeatedly said I need respect, worship, and glory after your abuse and you’re not providing it.”
The content of the other two phone calls she shared with me was of a similarly abusive, threatening nature, and all were punctuated by Liza’s racking sobs.
“If you hang up on me, I’m going to make moves against your family.”
I then opened the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) Liza had sent me. It was seemingly written by Amar himself. The NDA states that Liza “is not allowed to release any recordings of Kanwar Amar Jit Singh into the public domain or private domain” and says that she “acknowledges that Kanwar Amar Jit Singh is innocent of any crime and any aggravated statements made by Kanwar Amar Jit Singh from August 2023 onwards were a result of the abuse he suffered from Liza-Johanna Holgersson between April 2023-August-2023.”
In return, Amar agrees that he will “not pursue any member of Liza-Johanna Holgersson’s family within the boundaries of the law,” and if he breaches these terms, Liza will be entitled to “any painting on canvas by Joan Mitchell within Kanwar Amar Jit Singh’s collection.”
If the NDA was real, the great champion of women’s rights and women’s art was apparently using a painting by one of the greatest female artists of the 20th century as collateral to silence a former girlfriend.
A whole new story swung into view. If Amar had been in contact with Liza this whole time—as the recordings suggested—had he given me a false e-mail and phone number for Liza to prevent me from hearing her side of the story? Had anything else he told me been untrue, part of his effort to blacken her name in his quest for revenge? It seemed that Liza—a party girl who liked picking up and tricking rich men—had, in Amar, picked up a man with power and wealth but also a dangerously fragile ego.
Little did I know: the strangest was yet to come. —Hannah Ghorashi
Part 2: THE EDITOR’S TALE
When you’re an editor, some stories come to you as neat little bundles, perfectly tied, ready for publication. Some stories need nips and tucks, while others have to be completely undone, re-arranged, and tied up all over again. Very occasionally a story arrives that seems to be a neat little bundle but is in fact a hand grenade. No sooner have you picked it up than it explodes, and you spend the next three weeks scraping sentences off the ceiling and wondering what the hell just happened. This was one of those stories.
When the writer, Hannah Ghorashi, originally approached Air Mail with her pitch, it seemed like a no-brainer. An Indian prince, Amar Singh, known for his charitable work in the realm of women’s rights, had been taken for a ride by a beautiful Swedish con woman, Liza-Johanna Holgersson, as had other rich, older men. It sounded like a cautionary tale that delved into the mores of Internet dating, where everyone is who you want them to be, no one is who they say they are, and relationships can be turned on and off with the touch of a button.
There was the irony that a celebrated defender of women’s rights was getting conned by a woman. But while Liza’s actions were seemingly cruel, they were also strangely impressive. Here was a woman in her early 20s leaving a string of brokenhearted—and, in some cases, lighter-pocketed—powerful men in her wake.
In many ways it seemed like Liza had treated Amar and the other men in what might be seen as a traditionally male way: preying on their goodwill, cheating on them with little guilt, and having a boy in every port—sometimes more than one. What better story for our current times?
As the weeks went by after the piece was commissioned, Hannah worked closely with Amar on the story and would occasionally send me items that he shared with her—photos of Liza, pictures of himself, screenshots of communications with British police, and so on—that made me confident the piece would be well researched and relatively straightforward.
As we got closer to publication, Hannah still had not spoken to Liza. We had multiple witnesses to her behavior, but still we wanted to give Liza a chance to tell her side of the story. However, most of Liza’s social-network accounts had been shut down—some are now back up and running—and the numbers and e-mails Hannah had gotten from Amar weren’t working.
So, on the Monday before publication, we decided Hannah should reach out to Liza’s parents—whose identities Liza had manipulated for her deceptions—and see if they could forward a message to her. It was a Hail Mary, and even if we did reach Liza, I didn’t imagine she would want to speak to us. I was wrong. At 8:59 p.m. U.K. time, on Monday, September 25, Hannah contacted me—“Liza just e-mailed me!”
Liza wanted to speak off the record, but contact had been made. If the conversation went well, I hoped—with time—we might be able to get Liza to share her side of things on the record. What I didn’t expect was that she would cause our neat little bundle of a story to explode in the most bizarre way possible.
In many ways it seemed like Liza had treated Amar and the other men in a traditionally male way.
When I woke up on Tuesday morning, I saw Hannah had forwarded me an e-mail from Amar. It had been sent to her at 4:32 a.m. U.K. time and the subject line was “Article.” It read:
I hope you are well. I am writing with an apology first and foremost to you but given further discussions with a view to resolution with all parties involved
-I retract all statements I have made about Liza-Johanna Holgersson with immediate effect
-I cannot be named in any capacity
-Any alleged evidence I have provided, including recordings, is still my property and cannot be used
-I do not support or give my consent for any article moving ahead
I am deeply sorry again for the time you have spent on this and wish to compensate you as a gesture of goodwill commensurate with what you were to receive
My first thought was: Why is he trying to retract a story that he brought to us and that he provided so much corroborating evidence for? My second thought was: Is he trying to bribe our writer?
It was only then that I checked my WhatsApp and saw that Hannah had sent me the three audio files that Liza had shared with her. When I listened to them, the retraction and the bribe seemed to make sense. If these really were recordings of Amar talking to Liza, then Singh was potentially facing a serious blow to his credibility as a women’s-rights activist.
Aside from the grotesqueness of the insults, the arrogant boasts, and the vicious threats that appear on the recordings, what troubled me was that Amar said he planned to turn “the article”—seemingly the very article I was editing!—into “an assassination.”
This meant there was a strong possibility Air Mail was being manipulated to enact some kind of revenge on his former lover. Amar had obviously thought he could control the story he had given us, but the recordings had upended his expectations and thrown his whole plan into disarray.
Being so close to getting tricked was galling. But, I thought, if we could just get Liza to speak to us on the record, we could print her side of what had become a much more complex story.
We never got the chance. At 8:18 p.m. on Tuesday, another twist was hurled our way. Liza had texted Hannah. She was retracting her comments, too.
“Hi Hannah,” Liza wrote, “due to developments of parties involved I take back my off the record statements and do not wish to be part of this story in any regard.”
A vein started throbbing in my head. Just 24 hours earlier, Hannah had spoken to Liza for an hour. Liza had sent the recordings to Hannah—surely a sign of trust? Why did she now want to retract everything? And how do you even retract off-the-record statements?
Hannah and I tried to make sense of it. We thought there seemed to be only one plausible answer: Threats had been made on the recordings. If the recordings were real, had more threats been made that we didn’t know about?
The next day, Wednesday, Hannah made contact with Amar on the phone. He maintained his stance that he was retracting all his former statements, as well as refusing to comment on the audio recordings Liza had sent us. However, in a phone call with Hannah, he now suggested a deal.
“You know, Hannah,” he said, “there are other pieces and other things I can deliver you, and I understand your position and I understand Air Mail’s position, but there are other pieces which don’t affect [my] humanitarian work.”
When Hannah asked him what he meant, he replied, “I would like to continue working with Air Mail, and you, on bigger stories as I have in the press, but often I have arranged and facilitated bigger stories. I’m just fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things.”
If we had been uncertain about the first bribe, there was no doubt about this second attempt. Amar had even confirmed that the story threatened his “humanitarian work.”
By now the alarms were ringing throughout Air Mail. The piece was scheduled to run on Saturday—three days away. Was there time to rework it with these extraordinary new developments?
Then came the deluge.
For the next 48 hours, it rained retractions. A retraction came from Erika, Liza’s New York roommate, then another one from Liza, then one from Lisa Hjelt, Amar’s Swedish friend, all in language remarkably similar to that of Amar’s stilted original: “I am formally retracting comments I made to you regarding Liza-Johanna Holgersson.”
Again and again, they flooded into not just my inbox but those of Air Mail’s other editors, too, many of whom were contacted via their LinkedIn profiles.
Even Mark, one of Liza’s other boyfriends, who had given us photos of Liza to use in the piece, e-mailed us to say that he withheld his permission to use them. When Hannah called him to ask why he was doing so, he didn’t respond.
All the retractions shared the same language as Amar’s e-mail, as well as his unassailable but quite mistaken belief that he could wave a magic wand and somehow take back what he had already told us.
Again, we racked our brains to try and work out what was happening. Had Amar called everyone and told them to follow his lead? But how had he persuaded them to do so?
On Thursday, the retractions continued with a new wrinkle. Liza texted Hannah and said that she did not believe the abusive recordings she had sent her actually featured Amar. When Hannah asked Liza if they had been A.I.-generated, Liza said, “I have never said anything about A.I.” She wrote to Air Mail stating, “I do not acknowledge these recordings as representing him [Amar] or being authentic in any manner.”
By now Air Mail’s lawyers were on red alert, and the co-editors had been informed. Although the recordings had been sent by Liza, we didn’t know if the voice on the recordings was really Amar’s. Since their authenticity had been disclaimed, we would have to get them verified by a digital-forensics company if we wanted to quote from them, and we had just over 24 hours to do so. Meanwhile, Amar was engaged in a whole new tactic. On Instagram he posted the following message:
“I am currently being interviewed for a story about two journalists who are knowingly publishing a false & fabricated story for the purposes of making a film/TV show.”
Amar accused Hannah and her husband of coercion, deleting messages, and ignoring retractions—claims that I believed were baseless—and asked if there were any “media contacts” among his Instagram followers who would be interested in covering this story. He ended his post with a plea in red letters: “I am a big believer in free press but ethics have to be upheld.”
Everything was topsy-turvy, but one thing was obvious: there was a story here.
Let’s step back and take a breather. The story, as it seemed to me on Thursday evening, was this:
Amar had tried to tell us a story about Liza being a manipulative con woman, a grifter who had pretended to be someone she wasn’t. However, in researching the piece we discovered that Amar may also have been pretending to be someone he wasn’t. In an incredible twist, he had tried to bribe our writer to stop her from writing the very piece he had suggested she write, and when that had failed, it looked like he had gotten our sources to retract their statements (sources that he had originally put us in touch with). Every communication from him seemed a desperate attempt to prevent the recordings and their inconvenient contents from being made public.
But in this story, nothing was what it seemed.
On Thursday night we sent a right of reply to Amar—a description of the allegations we intended to publish to give him the opportunity to answer them—and on Friday morning we received the expected denials that the recordings were real, along with a re-statement of his retractions. But they were accompanied by an e-mail from Amar’s lawyer, Tim Drukker of Fishman Brand Stone Solicitors, an English law firm.
It was sent to an array of Air Mail editors and reiterated Amar’s complaints, stated that the recordings Liza had shared with us were “not of Mr Singh,” and threatened to “commence proceedings against your company for defamation” if we suggested the recordings were attributable to Amar. The lawyer went on to state that if we published an article stating that Liza had stolen items from Amar, or utilized a fake ID, he would advise her to seek redress through the courts, too.
There’s nothing like the sound of legal threats in the morning to get the blood pumping. The strange thing was I didn’t know anything about a fake ID, but I did know that Amar had accused Liza of stealing a book. Why was the lawyer specifically mentioning only those two facts?
I didn’t have much time to mull this over, because shortly afterward we received another legal letter, one from Liza’s representative, Johan Stadth of Fjällman Juridik, seemingly a Swedish law firm. It was entitled “Cease and Desist— Unauthorized Use of Confidential Material”and addressed the “serious legal concerns” in our proposed publishing of the piece.
By this time the adrenaline had worn off, and I was feeling quite beaten down by the onslaught. I gloomily decided to google Fjällman Juridik and see what we were up against. Maybe they were a nice, Swedish, non-litigious kind of law firm?
It proved to be even better than that. The firm didn’t exist.
There was a law firm called Fjällmans Juridik, with an s, but their e-mail address formatting was quite different from the one that had sent us a cease-and-desist. I called up Fjällmans Juridik and was told there was no one working there by the name of Johan Stadth, and when I shared the e-mail we had received with one of the firm’s partners, Carl Fjällman, he confirmed, “This is [a] fake e-mail, someone impersonating us.”
The fake e-mail had come from the web address www.fjallmanjuridik.se, which I entered into the WHOIS database, which holds the registration details of all Internet domain names. The address www.fjallmanjuridik.se had been purchased on Friday, September 29—that very morning.
The story suddenly rose again from out of the flood of legal complaints. It seemed that by fair means or foul, Amar and Liza—possibly under coercion—were trying to stop us from running the story, even going so far as to impersonate a lawyer.
But Amar had been saving his coup de grâce for Friday afternoon.
There’s nothing like the sound of legal threats in the morning to get the blood pumping.
It was then that Air Mail’s Co-Editor Alessandra Stanley received an unexpected FaceTime call. It was Amar. He began with flattery, saying that he had admired her work for years. She asked him, immediately after confirming they were on the record, why he was now retracting his story about Liza, after he had brought it to us in the first place.
Amar apologized, stuttered, digressed, and then said, “As you might have seen, I have invested and produced several films.... A number of journalists were contacted by Liza and myself … to research and do a proposal for a film … [that would] see and test the elasticity of truth in the digital age.”
He said he had discussed with “some producers” in May of this year the idea of a movie that would be about “journalists writing a false and fabricated story.” Amar said that he, Liza, and unnamed others had worked together to concoct the fake story about a Swedish con artist that would be irresistible to the press. Unfortunately, he said, there weren’t any drafts outlining this project for us to see, but that’s because the project was “preliminary.” It was, he said, too soon to “bring the pudding to producers.” He noted with some pride, though, that the unmade movie already had a title: Thirst for Fiction.
As Stanley expressed polite incredulity, he asked her, “Haven’t you seen Wag the Dog?” to which Stanley quickly replied that in the film Wag the Dog politicians make up a fake scandal to divert attention from a real one. If that was what he was playing at, what was the real scandal he was hiding? Amar went silent.
Stanley asked him why, if the purpose of all this had been research for a satiric film, he would now demand retractions. He said that he “didn’t realize it had progressed to this extent.” Stanley suggested that, if they wanted to plead their case further, both he and Liza should speak to the editor of the story—me.
Drunk on Fiction
Despite being an editor, a traditionally sardonic race, I like to think that I’ve kept a somewhat optimistic nature when it comes to my fellow man. I’d much rather say, “Oh, really?” than say, “No, never!” But on this occasion my better nature was struggling.
In Amar’s telling, everything—the weeks of interviews, the piles of documents, Liza’s other lovers, the off-the-record conversations, the grotesque audio recordings, the days of panicked retractions, the real lawyer’s letter, the fake lawyer’s letter—was intended for an elaborate meta-movie to show how easy it was to fool the press. He had even filed a report with the British police about the stolen book, for God’s sake. If this was all made up, he had passed false information to them and wasted their time.
It was such a mad final gambit I was quite taken aback. Amar seemed to be trying to pull an “I woke up and it was all a dream” ending to this whole insane story. The idea that everything—everything!—that had gone before was research for a film seemed preposterous, not just because of the logistics involved but because, according to IMDB, Singh has produced only one film up until now, a B movie entitled Assassin Club. (It has a Tomatometer score of 13 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, where a review quote from John Nugent of Empire calls it “incompetent and mostly just quite boring.”)
That he had now suddenly embarked on a film project that was a cross between Andy Kaufman, the performance artist, and Charlie Kaufman, the filmmaker known for his meta-conceits, seemed highly improbable. What’s more, the idea that he and Liza had launched into an elaborate months-long con of our journalist without any plans, paperwork, or agreements seemed highly implausible.
These were the lengths Amar was willing to go to in order to make us forget the recordings.
Yet the story twisted back on itself again, like the sanity-eating Ouroboros that it had become, when I spoke to Liza on the phone. In a tone that was surprisingly bright and cheerful, she echoed almost word for word what Amar had told Air Mail’s co-editor. “So this has blown a little out of proportion,” she giggled. “We weren’t expecting this to go this far.” It had, she said, “actually started out as research for a movie idea Amar had in May … and we decided to start looking into the movie idea of journalists who are hungry for a story and complete disregard for any evidence available.”
Wanting to establish immediately whether she was telling the truth or not, I asked her about the (nonexistent) Swedish law firm that had sent us a cease-and-desist e-mail earlier in the day. When had she hired them? She said, without hesitation, that she had hired them that morning because she felt it was important to defend her rights. It was at that point, with some relief, that I realized it was likely to be lies all the way down.
The strange thing was that even though she had just lied to my face, her fluency and joviality made her strangely convincing. Her calmness was almost supernatural. But the longer I spoke to her, the more holes appeared in her story. Liza said there were “multiple different men and women and friends of ours, contacts of ours,” who helped them in their “film research,” but when I asked her if Jon, one of her former lovers, was part of the research—after all, he had been one of our main sources—she said that she had no comment and that I would have to ask Amar.
As for the grisly audio recordings she had sent Hannah, Liza insisted that Air Mail was “legally not allowed to use them.” But when I asked her why it mattered, since they were, presumably, part of her and Amar’s Thirst for Fiction story, she couldn’t answer, instead shifting tack and saying they were created entirely by A.I. When I asked if she had created them, she denied it. When I asked who had created them, she said I would have to ask Amar.
When I asked her why Amar had actually contacted the police about the supposedly fictional theft of his book, she seemed surprised. “Yeah, but I didn’t know that was real. I knew that had been mentioned, but I have not stolen anything.” When I said it seemed very unlikely that someone working on a fictional film project would have contacted the actual police, she said I would have to ask Amar.
The only time Liza really faltered was at the very end of our conversation. I was still concerned that despite her evasions she was acting under duress. So I asked her, point-blank, if she was in danger and needed help. There was silence. It was only four or five seconds long, but it was the longest silence of our entire 45-minute conversation. When she did reply, it was with an uncertain “no.” The call ended soon afterward.
Three days prior to publication, Air Mail e-mailed Liza a detailed list of follow-up questions. She replied eight hours later, repeating her claim that everything had been research for a film project. She reiterated that it wasn’t Amar’s voice on the recordings, and when challenged about the nonexistence of her Swedish lawyer, she replied, “You will have to speak to my lawyer.”
When we asked her if she’d had relationships with other men while seeing Amar, she accused us of “slutshaming.” When we asked if she had stolen her roommate’s rent money, she said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
In response to our questions about her past, her family, her flights to St. Tropez, her offer to pay Jon $20,000 for a green card, her request from Jon for a loan of $50,000 to buy an Hermès bag, she referred us to her previous retractions. Regarding Mark and the $20,000 he accused her of not paying back, she told us she wasn’t aware of any legal action taken against her and that the money she was paying Mark back is “within the terms of the loan agreement” she had arranged with him.
“Haven’t you seen Wag the Dog?”
Since Liza had laid so much of the project at Amar’s door, I spoke to him the following day. Amar was superior and unctuous on the phone. He had obviously done a basic Google search of my name because he insisted on crowbarring into the conversation the titles of books I had written and the names of people I had gone to school with. I couldn’t tell if this was intended to be ingratiating or threatening.
He repeated that this had all been research for his Thirst for Fiction project and claimed that all the people our reporter had spoken to were in on the project, too. However, he insisted that he hadn’t wanted to “entrap” our writer. “I’m experimenting with a production idea,” he said, as if that explained, justified, and forgave everything.
Yet the more times I asked Amar straight questions, the more crooked the answers came back. For somebody who had spent months planning an exposé of unscrupulous journalists, he seemed increasingly touchy, evasive, and insincere when I questioned him. It was almost as if he didn’t appreciate the journalistic method after all.
When I asked him why he contacted the police regarding the supposed theft of his book, he said he hadn’t. When I mentioned that he had shared with us a screenshot of a communication with a member of the Metropolitan Police, he said, “I can’t comment on that.” When I asked him why he was still not answering questions now that he had revealed the story to be a prank, he wouldn’t give an answer.
(The Metropolitan Police have since confirmed an official report was filed with them: “On Friday, 11 August, police received a report of a theft of a book from a property on Beaufort Street, Chelsea. Officers have spoken to the victim and enquiries remain ongoing.” Amar lives on Beaufort Street.)
When I asked how many people knew about this “experiment,” he said there were “50 to 100 people” who knew about it, including “my family, Liza’s family, her friends, my friends, the other individuals who collaborated on this.” And yet he would not give us the names or contact details of anyone we could talk to who could publicly confirm this. Even though we eventually tracked down some of his friends and acquaintances, no one, other than Amar or Liza, would go on the record to verify that they had been part of, or even heard of, his Thirst for Fiction project.
Finally I asked Amar about the recordings, the items that had turned this story upside down and threatened to undermine his carefully worked public persona. When I told him that Liza had said he had created them with artificial intelligence, he countered, “Well, I’m not a technologist … but I’m very aware that other individuals were involved.” But when I asked him, repeatedly, who that person or persons were, he would not say.
Again and again, he evaded the question, refusing to say if he had made them, if he knew who had made them, if they were made against his will, or if they were made under his direction. Frustrated, I asked him one final time about the recordings. “If you don’t know who made them, and Liza doesn’t know who made them, where did they come from?”
“A.I. A.I. A.I.,” he responded.
When I asked Alfred Demirjian, the audio- forensic scientist who had confirmed Amar’s voice on the recordings, what he thought of Amar’s claim that these were made by A.I., he provided us with his considered professional opinion: “Bullshit.”
The only problem with telling a journalist that everything is made up is that the journalist then wonders if anything is real. So we began looking into the story of Amar Singh himself.
We started with his royal title. He’s been called an “Indian prince” by numerous publications, but what did that mean? The princely state of Kapurthala, which he has suggested he is a prince of, was dissolved with Indian independence, in 1947. According to the Web site Sikh-heritage.co.uk, Amar is the fourth cousin once removed of the current holder of the titular Kapurthala title. His links to Indian royalty, such as it is, are distant at best.
Needless to say, there’s nothing wrong or illegal about making the most of remote royal connections, or allowing others to make them for you, but his claim to the title seems indicative of the way he has spun many aspects of the story.
Amar was born in London and raised in England. His father is a retired software engineer and business-development rep. According to Zoopla, a property Web site, the family home in Windsor appears to be a pleasant red-brick home with three bedrooms and a nice view of Windsor Castle—perhaps nice enough to encourage thoughts of being royalty oneself. It was bought for about $314,000 in June 1996 and is valued at around $1,684,000 today.
Amar stated that he attended, and then dropped out of, Harvard University. But he does not appear in any freshman-class registers and Harvard could not confirm or deny his attendance. When we asked him what year he had dropped out, he did not give an answer but replied that we had only asked this question “due to the colour of my skin.”
We found a number of micro-companies registered to Amar’s name over the past 10 years, but all had failed. His art gallery, Amar Gallery, opened with great hoopla in 2017 to champion overlooked women artists, but by 2020 it owed its creditors $435,192. The gallery was dissolved by “compulsory strike-off” in 2021. This is usually due to a company’s failure to submit accounts on time or to pay fees or penalties. It’s a tactic sometimes used to avoid paying creditors, although when we asked Amar about who the debts were owed to he replied, “you are clearly oblivious to the concept of directors loans.”
His art philanthropy, mentioned in almost every article written about him, is impressive but also seems spotty. In one of the three profiles Vanity Fair published, Amar is said to have “pledged to give $5 million worth of art by women and LGBTQ artists to museums worldwide by 2025.” It went on to say he “has already donated this value of art in under two years.” While we did find evidence that Amar has donated paintings to museums in New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Amsterdam, we could find no evidence of the amount being in the region of $5 million.
He stated on Instagram that he had donated a painting by the artist Lina Iris Viktor to the “Smithsonian Museum” in Washington, D.C., and sent us a receipt for the 2018 gift made to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, which valued the work at $6,000. However, the receipt listed the donor as a person named Donald Homsher, not Amar Singh. The artist’s studio said, “We would like to pass on commenting on this.”
Similarly, Amar had claimed, on Instagram, to have donated $10,000 to Art at a Time Like This, a nonprofit “digital first” arts organization. But the organization told us that “there wasn’t a donation from Singh,” rather he had helped facilitate it.
When we asked people in the art world about him, we received mixed messages. The gallerist Destinee Ross-Sutton was positive, saying Amar had “encouraged and supported her.” She had even discounted a work for him by 50 percent—a painting of the poet Amanda Gorman by Raphael Adjetey Adjei Mayne—so that he could donate it to a museum.
But to the critic and artist Kenny Schachter, Amar was a “fake aristocrat” who frequently boasted about, and overinflated, his accomplishments in the art world. Others, who wished to remain anonymous, were similarly skeptical, claiming Amar’s work with the L.G.B.T.Q.+ movement was simply a way for him to ingratiate himself further into the art world.
The inconsistencies continued in his other causes. He was often praised for his work allegedly helping to overturn gay conversion therapy in India, and, in Vanity Fair, Amar had suggested he had won the backing of Human Rights Watch after much fighting. “I didn’t take no for an answer,” he said.
But when we spoke to Graeme Reid, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program, he declared that “Human Rights Watch is certainly not involved in this initiative, and to suggest otherwise is misleading.”
Reid said he had spoken to Amar just once. “My assessment was that his was a one-person initiative, divorced from any on the ground activism, and not something we would support. Furthermore, as I pointed out to him at the time, another reason we would not support this initiative, is because conversion therapy is already impermissible in terms of the relevant health-care regulations in India.”
“Human Rights Watch is certainly not involved in this initiative, and to suggest otherwise is misleading.”
We could find little evidence for or against Amar’s claims that he served as an adviser and ambassador to the Andrea Bocelli Foundation or the Great Ormond Street Hospital, and Amar, when asked, did not provide any proof. Neither could we find any record that Muhammad Ali had praised his humanitarian work, as Amar had claimed.
I went back and looked at the evidence he had sent us for his original story about Liza. There was a receipt for his $10,000 purchase of the signed copy of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He had tried to anonymize the name of the auction house but had left the auction number and title on the receipt. A cursory Internet search using those terms led us to an unsigned first edition of Breakfast at Tiffany’s that had sold at Swann’s auction house in New York for $700.
Big lies, little lies. Lies about lying. They had accreted to form a protective shell around Amar, one that he seemed quite happy living within. On Thursday, October 5, he announced, on Instagram, that he was involved in a new project. Its title: Thirst for Fiction: The Movie. It seemed he was trying to retroactively turn his lie into a truth. He then sent me, via text, an undated picture of himself and a woman who appeared to be Liza at a restaurant. The implication was that they were hard at work on the project together.
I almost felt sorry for Amar. Magazines and newspapers had written about him in the past without challenging anything he had told them. He had said he was donating millions of dollars to this organization or using his massive funds to help with that museum, and it was published as the truth.
Here was a progressive Indian royal who could speak the language of L.G.B.T.Q.+ and women’s rights while promising huge donations to photogenic charities. It was the sort of exotic philanthro-porn that no one—not even Air Mail—could resist.
We had dived into the fantastical rabbit hole of Amar Singh’s life and had to be dragged back to remember where this had all started: the tale of a Swedish con woman, and a number of threatening audio recordings with his voice on them.
I had to remind myself that Amar might not just be a harmless exaggerator of his own importance. Why wasn’t anyone else we interviewed willing to concur with Amar that this had all been a big game? Why did Jon and Carlo and Mark and Erika no longer want to speak to us?
It looked like nothing else could be done. Amar had originally brought us a story about Liza, an immoral grifter who had created a fake family history and who had enacted any number of deceptions in order to live the life she felt she deserved. In many ways he had been telling his own story—Amar and Liza seemed mirror images of each other.
And then one final twist came to us from out of the blue.
On Monday, October 9, Hannah received a text from Mark, the ex-boyfriend of Liza’s from whom she had borrowed $20,000. He was breaking his silence and said he had some important information for us.
“Amar severely manipulated all of us,” he blurted out to Hannah as soon as she picked up the phone. Mark had agreed to be part of Amar’s original story about Liza because he wanted to expose how she operated and highlight how she had taken his money. A few weeks later Amar had texted him saying he was going to pay off Liza’s debt. Mark was thrilled, but soon afterward Amar called him in tears. “He said, ‘I’m gonna lose my life, Liza recorded me saying things to her and she said she’s gonna publish this, and if she publishes this my life is over.”’
Mark was concerned and asked if he should call the police, but Amar said no, he just needed him to send a retraction to Air Mail that he, Amar, had written. Mark felt sorry for him and did as he asked. And when Hannah reached out to him again he didn’t respond, thinking it was all part of Liza’s vendetta. However, when he saw Amar’s Instagram post announcing his Thirst for Fiction project, signed by both Amar and Liza, “that really hit me,” Mark said. “He’s a twisted motherfucker.”
He hadn’t known anything about a film project. He had helped Amar because they had both been cheated on by Liza. Now he was seeing Amar in league with her? When he wrote to Amar about this and asked him about the debt Amar said he was going to repay, Amar blocked him. Then, almost immediately, Liza started messaging him with a warning: if he spoke to any journalists, she would reveal his real name to the world. “I know you have tried to be anonymous,” she wrote.
(When we asked Amar about this, he told us that Mark “was happy to retract in the knowledge that I had retracted mine given everything I told you about Liza Holgersson was fiction.”)
But why, Hannah asked Mark, had Liza joined forces with Amar? Amar had threatened her family, so why was she now doing his bidding? Was it because she was still being threatened? Mark didn’t think so. He was convinced they were back together again. “It’s because she’s twisted, too,” he said. “That’s why they’re attracted to each other—because they’re both twisted.”
It certainly could be the case. If Amar wasn’t threatening Liza into complying, then perhaps he had made a deal with her: if she wanted to keep her name out of the press, she would have to help him keep his name out, too. And so the pair of them had seemingly turned to dirty tricks to accomplish it.
This took me back to something Amar had said in my conversation with him a few days before. When I asked him, for the umpteenth time, why we could not speak to any of his Thirst for Fiction co-conspirators, he got offended.
“What do you want me to say?” he said. “What are you suggesting?… You’re surely not suggesting that a human-rights activist has now silenced over half a dozen individuals?!”
“I’m dedicated to making the world a better place.”
The Last Word
Three days prior to publication, we e-mailed Amar a detailed list of follow-up questions. He replied 16 hours later, repeating the claim that everything was just research for a film project, reiterating that it wasn’t his voice on the recordings, and accusing Air Mail of being a “white led newspaper” with a “racist and homophobic agenda.” He denied he had ever tried to bribe Hannah and told us he did “not recall ever seeing” the NDA Liza sent us. He also stated that he had never threatened Liza’s family.
He denied he had ever tried to bribe Hannah, and when we asked him why he had given her a fake e-mail address and phone number for Liza he replied, “Liza has several emails and contact numbers as do I.” In response to our observation that some members of the art world said he was advocating for L.G.B.T.Q.+ rights to bolster his public image and advance his personal goals, he wrote back: “I view this as an extremely homophobic question and have repeatedly stated my work is secondary to the actual mission of helping LGBT+ communities.”
When we asked him if he could provide evidence for his claim that Muhammad Ali had praised his humanitarian work, he replied, “You would have to ask Muhammad Ali.” Ali died in 2016. —George Pendle
Editor’s note: Air Mail does not suggest that the parents of Liza, nor any of the friends and acquaintances of Liza or Amar mentioned in the piece, have been knowing accessories to any suspected attempts to manipulate, deceive, or engage in any wrongdoing that may be criminal.
Hannah Ghorashi is a writer living in London. George Pendle is an Editor at Large at AIR MAIL