A tiny Filipino woman timidly enters the opulent foyer of entrepreneur Vasu Chanchlani’s Mississauga mansion to hang up the coats of her boss’s guests. With the same deer-like silence of her approach, she retreats to the kitchen.
She’s the fifth (or is it sixth? her boss can’t remember) maid who’s worked at the Chanchlani residence since 2007.
“She has not been told – ever – that a murder took place here,” Mr. Chanchlani says later, in one of his home’s many living rooms. “But I am pretty sure she knows. I never told her. We don’t talk about that stuff.”
Six years ago, Mr. Chanchlani’s home was the site of an investigation that came to be known as the “Maid in the Mansion” case. It had all the ingredients of the kind of crime that compels TV crews to camp outside a house for days. It was a robbery gone bad: Two men (one of whom was a painter Mr. Chanchlani had employed) broke into the house to steal cash and jewellery. When they were leaving, they bumped into Jocelyn Dulnuan, the 27-year-old Filipino maid, and killed her so there would be no witnesses. The men were convicted of first-degree murder in 2010 and are serving life sentences. Shots of the massive Chanchlani home were splashed all over the media and Mr. Chanchlani's name got mixed into reports on the lurid details of the case.
In 2007, he was the subject of conversation in the Punjabi community, since so many knew his house was where the crime had been committed, said Yudhvir Jaswal, a journalist with a South Asian community newspaper and a friend of Mr. Chanchlani’s.
And though Mr. Chanchlani was a well-respected businessman in the high-tech sector, his Google search results were now marred by stories about a high-profile murder.
But in the six years since then, the Internet has created a new profile for him. All it took was giving away $16-million to Ontario universities.
Less than a decade ago, a generous donation, in Mr. Chanchlani’s view, was $5,000. Relatively speaking, it was small change for a man who claims part-ownership of 20 companies and whose claim to fame was co-founding the high-tech firm Sigma Systems, selling it for $82-million (U.S.) in 2002 and then buying it back a year later for a dollar (plus liabilities).
Instead of getting a moderate tax writeoff, as he did in the past, the scale of Mr. Chanchlani's charitable work today means his name is attached to programs at McMaster University, the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo, where he’s so far donated between $1-million and $2-million toward $16-million worth of endowments. There are two awards in his name for global leadership among members of the Indian diaspora and global health research. Like Bill Gates, he aspires to give away 50 per cent of his wealth, he says. Right now he figures his philanthropy draws on 30 per cent of his and his wife Jaya’s net income.
Ms. Chanchlani is blissfully ignorant about how the family’s finances are managed.
“I just work and I come home, okay? I don’t know where my money goes or what happens,” she said.
She recalls a fundraiser the couple attended where guests were asked to give $500 to sponsor a child’s education for a year in India. At one point, the event host announced someone had donated the funds for a whole school: $37,500.
“And I didn’t know that this was my husband who did that,” she said. “The person announced before even I knew. And I had no problem with that.”
Aditya Jha, Mr. Chanchlani’s closest friend, said Mr. Chanchlani first contacted him several years ago when he saw Mr. Jha featured in the front page of a newspaper for his philanthropic work (Mr. Jha also made millions as a serial entrepreneur). His theory: Mr. Chanchlani was compelled to give in part to garner the same attention.
“He knows he’s much bigger than I am. So why not him?” he said. “People give [because of] either a very strong belief and passion or ego.”
Instead of “Vasu Chanchlani: millionaire employer of a murdered maid,“ or “Vasu Chanchlani: high-tech entrepreneur,” he is now labelled “Vasu Chanchlani: philanthropist.”
But before he started writing those million-dollar cheques, his first public pledge was tied to the murdered maid. During the trial, in 2010, Mr. Chanchlani told media he planned to help bring his maid’s young daughter to Canada.
“It was my dream to fulfill Jocelyn’s dream, so I said I will bring her daughter and give her education support and everything,” he said.