Khobragade re-indicted in US visa fraud case

Khobragade re-indicted in US visa fraud case

Khobragade re-indicted in US visa fraud case

Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, whose arrest and stripsearch soured Indo-US relations, was today re-indicted on US visa fraud charges, a day after a US court dismissed an earlier indictment


In fresh trouble for Khobragade, federal prosecutors re-indicted the Indian diplomat on charges of visa fraud and making false statements about the visa application of her domestic help.

A grand jury has returned a true bill today on the two-count criminal indictment of Khobragade.

The fresh indictment filed in a federal court in Manhattan also charges that Khobragade submitted to the US State Department an employment contract of her domestic worker which she knew contained "materially false and fraudulent statements."

The 21- page indictment states that the diplomat "knowingly made" multiple false representations and presented false information to US authorities in order to obtain a visa for a personal domestic worker.

The indictment said that "Khobragade did not want to pay the victim the required wages under US law or provide the victim with other protections against exploitative work conditions mandated by US law.

"Knowing that if the US authorities were told the truth about the actual terms of her employment agreement with the victim, Khobragade would not have been able to obtain a visa for the victim, Khobragade decided to make false statements to the US authorities," it said.

The Diplomat, who was transferred back to India and is now with the Ministry of External Affairs, has refuted the charges against her.

The indictment gives details of the employment contract that Khobragade entered into with her domestic help Sangeeta Richard.

It further states that Khobragade "illegally underpaid and exploited the victim."

The indictment said the diplomat kept Richard's passport with her and said she would return the passport to the maid once her three-year term of employment was completed.

It also states that "escalating efforts" were made by Khobragde and others "to silence and intimidate the victim and her family and lie to Indian authorities and courts."

US Attorney Preet Bharara has submitted as exhibits a copy of the employment contract that Khobragade entered into with Richard that states that she will be paid USD 9.75 per hour salary and would be required to work for 40 hours a week.

According to prosecutors, Khobragade claimed she paid the woman USD 4,500 a month, but actually paid her around USD 3 per hour and her to work for more hours.

Khobragade was arrested on December 12 on visa fraud charges and for making false statements regarding the visa application of Richard.

She was strip-searched and held with criminals, triggering a row between the two countries with India retaliating by downgrading privileges of certain category of US diplomats among other steps.

Today's indictment comes a day after 39-year-old Khobragade got relief from District Judge Shira Scheindl who said in her 14-page order "it is undisputed" that the diplomat acquired full diplomatic immunity at 5:47 pm on January 8 after the US State Department approved her accreditation as a counsellor to India's mission to the UN.

The ruling had, however, left open the possibility that US prosecutors could bring a new indictment against Khobragade which was swiftly carried out today.

Today's indictment states that Khobragade knew the actual arrangement between her and Richard "violated US laws" and so she created a "fraudulent employment contract" and had the "victim execute it".

"Because it was created by Khobragade solely to deceive the US embassy during the victim's (visa) interview," the employment contract "included false statements" that made it seem as if the diplomat's arrangement with the "victim would comply with applicable US laws".

Khobragade knew that her real arrangement with the victim would not comply with the US laws, it said.

The indictment alleges that once Richard fled from her employment with Khobragade, the diplomat "took steps to prevent the victim and her family from communicating with lawyers and authorities outside of India about her experience she had working for Khobragade."

It said that after Richard left Khobragade's home, the diplomat questioned the "victim's husband, who stated that he was not aware of her whereabouts".