Two Nigerian brothers identified as “persons of interest” in the alleged hate attack on Jussie Smollett could face criminal charges, according to their lawyer.
It’s unclear what the men, identified as Abimbola ‘Abel’ and Olabinjo ‘Ola’ Osundairo, could be charged with, however, their lawyer, Gloria Schmidt, told CBS News.
“They are baffled about why they are people of interest,” Ms Schmidt told the network. “It’s an awful thing that happened to Jussie, but it’s not my guys.”
She said the men, who have not been identified, worked with Smollett on the set of his hit TV show Empire and worked out with him at the gym.
But she insisted her clients had nothing to do with the alleged assault on January 29 in Chicago — in which Smollett claims two men shouted racist and gay slurs at him, punched him, doused him with a “chemical substance” that could’ve been bleach and threw a noose around his neck.
Ms Schmidt said the brothers were just as stunned as everyone else over the 2am beat down.
“This is someone that they know, this is someone that they’ve worked with,” she said. “So they don’t want to see somebody go through that.”
Sources told the Chicago affiliates for both ABC and CBS that investigators were looking into whether the men helped Smollett stage the attack because he was being allegedly set to be written off the show.
But the reports were disputed by Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
“Media reports anout [sic] the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives,” he tweeted. “Supt Eddie Johnson has contacted @ABC7Chicago to state on the record that we have no evidence to support their reporting and their supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate.”
In a statement, 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment denied Smollett’s character was going anywhere.
“The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of EMPIRE is patently ridiculous,” it said. “He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him.”
The brothers had left for Nigeria the same day as the alleged attack, according to CBS News. They were detained by police after arriving on Wednesday at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
Police raided their home in the Windy City, removing bleach, a “black face mask hat,” a red hat, an Empire script, receipts and other items.
Critics have cast doubt on Smollett’s account — though the 36-year-old actor and singer has insisted he’s been consistent and truthful during the investigation.
“At first it was the thing of like, listen, if I tell the truth then that’s it because it’s the truth,” he said in his first interview since the attack. “Then it became a thing of, like, how can you doubt that? How can you not believe that? It’s the truth.”