Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade held for visa fraud in US released on bail

India protests ‘public humiliation’ of its diplomat, summons US envoy

Dec 13 • Human Rights, International, News, Women • 278 Views • No Comments

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times  Washington, December 13, 2013 | First Published: 17:12 IST(13/12/2013) | Last Updated: 19:24 IST(13/12/2013)

India on Friday summoned Nancy Powell, the US ambassador to New Delhi, to protest against the detention of one of its senior diplomats in New York. The move comes after the Indian embassy in Washington said its deputy consul general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, was arrested and handcuffed in public on Thursday for allegedly lying on the US visa application for an Indian national who worked for her as a domestic help.

“You cannot humiliate a mother of two publicly,” external affairs ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said.  He said “we are shocked and appalled at the manner in which she has been humiliated by the US authorities”.

“We have taken it up forcefully with the US government through our embassy in Washington. We are also reiterating, in no uncertain terms, to US embassy here that this kind of treatment to one of our diplomats is absolutely unacceptable,” Akabaruddin said.

In a major diplomatic embarrassment for India, Devyani, 39, was arrested and handcuffed in public before being released on a $250,000 bond after pleading not guilty in court.

She was taken into custody on a street as she was dropping her daughter to school, after the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, India-born Preet Bharara, announced charges of visa fraud against her. The next hearing is on January 13.

An 11-page criminal complaint unsealed in the court alleged Khobragade made false statements about the salary and employment terms of her housekeeper from India, Sangeeta Richard.

The charges carry prison sentences ranging between five and 10 years. Richard has alleged she was to be paid $4,500 per month according to the employment contract furnished for her visa, but Devyani later changed it to $537 a month. Richard also complained she was forced to work more than 40 hours a week.

Diplomats and consular officers can get domestic workers on A-3 visas after submitting proofs that the helper will receive a fair wage, sufficient to support himself financially and comparable to that offered in the same area in the US.

Devyani Khobragade, 39, India’s deputy consul general in New York was charged with one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements, which carry maximum sentences of 10 years and five years in prison, respectively. In response to media queries, the Indian embassy said it had conveyed its “strong concern to the US government over the action taken against Khobragade” and urged the US side “to resolve the matter with due sensitivity,” taking into account a pending court case in India and the diplomatic status of Khobragade.

Announcing the Indian diplomat’s arrest in New York, Manhattan’s Indian-American US attorney Preet Bharara alleged that she had caused “materially false and fraudulent statements” to be made in support of a visa application for an Indian national employed as a babysitter and housekeeper at her home in New York.

“Foreign nationals brought to the United States to serve as domestic workers are entitled to the same protections against exploitation as those afforded to United States citizens,” he said.

“The false statements and fraud alleged to have occurred here were designed to circumvent those protections so that a visa would issue for a domestic worker who was promised far less than a fair wage,” Bharara said.

“This type of fraud on the United States and exploitation of an individual will not be tolerated,” he said.

But the Indian embassy statement’s said action was apparently taken against Khobragade “on the basis of allegations raised by the officer’s former India-based domestic assistant, Sangeeta Richard, who has been absconding since June this year.”

The diplomat was taken into custody by law enforcement authorities in New York Thursday while she was dropping her daughter at school, it said. She was later released in the evening.

The embassy statement said: “The Delhi High Court had issued an-interim injunction in September to restrain Richards from instituting any actions or proceedings against Khobragade outside India on the terms or conditions of her employment.”

“The US Government had subsequently been requested to locate Richard and facilitate the service of an arrest warrant, issued by the Metropolitan Magistrate of the South District Court in New Delhi under Sections 387, 420 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code,” it said.

Bharara, on the other hand, alleged Khobragade had prepared and electronically submitted an application for an A-3 visa for an Indian national, who was to be her personal employee at a monthly salary of $4,500 per month.

The First Employment Contract stated, among other things, that Khobragade would pay the unnamed “Witness-1 the prevailing or minimum wage, whichever is greater, resulting in an hourly salary of $9.75.”

However, prior to the signing of the First Employment Contract, Khobragade and Witness-1 had agreed that she would pay 30,000 rupees per month, which at the time was equivalent to $573.07.

She also instructed Witness-1 to say that she would work 40 hours per week, and that her duty hours would be 7am to 12:30pm, and 6.30pm to 8.30pm.

She told Witness-1 that the First Employment Contract was a formality to get the visa, the statement alleged.

In fact, witness-1 worked for Khobragade as a household employee in New York from November 2012 through June 2013 for more than 40 hours per week and was paid less than 30,000 rupees per month, or $3.31 per hour, it alleged.

SOURCE: THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

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