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Handcuffing of diplomat in US triggers row

NEW YORK/NEW DELHI, Dec 13, 2013, DHNS:
Devyani Khobragade. PTI

One of India’s middle level diplomats in the US was arrested and handcuffed in public by law enforcement officials in New York for allegedly making false statements in a visa application for a woman whom she appointed for babysitting.

Devyani Khobragade, Deputy Consul General of India in New York, was arrested at 9:00 am (NY time) on Thursday, when she went to drop her daughter to school. The 39-year-old diplomat, who was acting head of the Consulate General of India in New York at the time of her arrest, was handcuffed in public before being taken into custody. She was later released on a $250,000 bond after pleading not guilty in a court. She also had to submit her diplomatic passport to the court.

The incident enraged New Delhi and the Embassy of India in Washington immediately conveyed its “strong concerns” to the US government.

Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh summoned US envoy to India, Nancy Powell, to the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi and told her that the Government of India was “shocked and appalled” by the “absolutely unacceptable” public humiliation of the diplomat.

The young diplomat 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.

Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said that Khobragade was arrested as she “allegedly caused a materially false and fraudulent document to be presented and materially false and fraudulent statements to be made to the US Department of State in support of a visa application for an Indian national employed as a babysitter and housekeeper” at her home in Big Apple.

Khobragade, who owns a flat at the controversial Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society in Mumbai, was accused of entering into two separate employment contracts with Sangeeta Richard, the woman whom she took from India to the US as domestic help. The contract that Richard submitted to the American Embassy in India at the behest of Khobragade to obtain an A-3 visa for herself, promised the domestic help an hourly salary of $ 9.75. The visa-application of Richard stated that Khobragade would give her a salary of $4,500 per month.

Khobragade, however, allegedly struck another deal with Richard, which guaranteed her a monthly salary of just Rs 30,000 per month.

The second agreement was not submitted to the US State Department, but the wage it promised to Richard meant that her hourly salary would be as low as $ 3.31 (for 40 hours of work per week in a month of about 4.3 weeks).

“Foreign nationals brought to the US to serve as domestic workers are entitled to the same protections against exploitation as those afforded to US citizens,” said Bharara, an Indian-American attorney well-known for his role in probes into insider trading and financial frauds in Wall Street.

Richard worked for Khobragade from November 2012 to June 2013. The Embassy of India in Washington on Thursday claimed that she had been absconding since June. “In this context, the Delhi High Court had issued an-interim injunction in September to restrain Ms Richard from instituting any actions or proceedings against Dr Khobragade outside India on the terms or conditions of her employment,” stated the Indian Embassy.

India also claimed that the US government had been subsequently requested to locate Richard and help serve her an arrest warrant, which was issued by the Metropolitan Magistrate of the South District Court in New Delhi under Sections 387, 420 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code.

Khobragade is the third diplomat of India to land in trouble in New York for allegedly exploiting domestic help. A former housekeeper had sued India’s then Consul General in New York, Prabhu Dayal, in June 2011, accusing him of intimidating her into a year of forced labour. In February 2012, Indian maid Shanti Gurung won a case against Neena Malhotra, who served as a Press and Culture Counselor at the New York Consulate from 2006-2009.

According to the sources in New Delhi, Indian diplomats are landing in troubles in the US, particularly in New York, repeatedly, as people they take from the country to work as domestic helps at their homes are resorting to legal proceedings against their employers towards the end of the tenure of the contracts, ostensibly to avoid returning to India, stay back in Big Apple and then seek asylum in America.


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