Police seek interview with Empire actor Jussie Smollett over reports he faked US ‘hate-crime’ assault

Police in Chacago are seeking a follow-up interview with actor Jussie Smollett amid reports he may have faked a hate-crime assault.

Smollett, 36, a gay African-American actor who appears on hip-hop TV drama Empire, told police he was attacked on January 29 by two masked men who yelled racial and homophobic slurs.

According to Smollett’s account, his assailants struck him in the face, draped a rope around his neck and doused him with an "unknown chemical substance" before fleeing.

But the actor now appears to be under investigation himself amid claims he staged the incident because he feared he was about to be written out of the popular television show. 

Police say the focus of their investigation has "shifted" after they received new information about the attack from the alleged assailants. 

Police detained two Nigerian brothers, identified as Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo last week, who were recognised from surveillance footage taken in the area of the alleged assault. 

One of the brothers had appeared as an extra on "Empire" and the other was Smollett’s personal trainer, whom the actor hired to help get him ready for a music video.

Detectives released the brothers last week without charges citing "new evidence" that had emerged while they were being questioned.

Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielm said the force had contacted Smollett’s lawyer to request another interview with the actor.

"Information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation," he said, adding: "Detectives have additional investigative work to complete".

On Monday a spokeswoman for Smollett said there were no plans for the actor to meet with Chicago detectives for a follow-up interview but his lawyers "will keep an active dialogue with Chicago police on his behalf."

Local TV station CBS 2 News reported that sources connected to the investigation believe Smollett paid the two men $3,500 (£2,700) to stage the attack, directing them to buy the rope used in the incident and rehearsing it with them days before.   

CNN also reported that police sources believed the attack had been coordinated. The network said records found in the brothers’ home showed they had purchased the rope found around Smollett’s neck at a hardware store in Chicago.

The actor’s representatives have strongly refuted the claims, saying Smollett felt "victimised" by suggestions he played a role in the assault.

“As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with,” his lawyers Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said in a statement.

"He has now been further victimised by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack,” they added. “Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”

Twentieth Century Fox Television, which broadcasts Empire, has also backed the actor, insisting he his a "core character" and dismissing claims he was to be written off were "patently ridiculous".

Mr Guglielm said Chicago Police were unable to confirm, deny or comment on the "validity of what’s been unofficially released" but added "there are some developments in this investigation".

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