India calls for quick action after diplomat arrested in New York

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 13, 2013 12:43 PM

By Chris Francescani

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Indian officials called for quick resolution of a criminal case involving a senior female diplomat who was arrested in New York on federal charges of visa fraud in lying about how much she paid her housekeeper, an Indian national.

An attorney for the diplomat, 39-year-old Devyani Khobragade, said on Friday he expects "the case to be resolved with a full vindication of in very short order," while the officials from India's embassy in Washington called on prosecutors to "resolve the matter with due sensitivity" to the woman's diplomatic status.

Khobragade, deputy consul general for political, economic, commercial and women's affairs at the Indian Consulate in New York, was arrested on Thursday and charged with one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements.

U.S. ambassador to India Nancy Powell was summoned on Friday to meet with India's foreign secretary Sujatha Singh, who conveyed "shock" over the "absolutely unacceptable" treatment of the diplomat by U.S. authorities, according to the Times of India.

U.S. prosecutors said Khobragade claimed in visa applications to be paying an Indian national who worked as a housekeeper in her Upper East Side residence about $4,500 a month, when in fact, she was paying her about 30,000 Indian rupees, or $480 a month, at current exchange rates. That works out to a wage of about $3.31 an hour, or less than half the $7.25 legal minimum, according to prosecutors.

Khobragade, who was released on $250,000 bail after pleading not guilty to the charges and surrendering her passport, faces a maximum of 15 years in jail if convicted on both counts.

Her attorney, Daniel Arshack, called on U.S. diplomats to "express their displeasure with the U.S. Department of Justice decisions" in this case.

The Indian embassy said that a court in India has issued an arrest warrant for the housekeeper, whose current whereabouts are not known. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, declined to comment on Friday.

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The housekeeper, who is not named in court papers, worked for Khobragade from November 2012 until June 2013.

Federal prosecutors in New York released a statement on Thursday saying that Khobragade broke the law and would be prosecuted.

"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," said Bharara, who is the top federal prosecutor in the district.

Calls to the Indian embassy in Washington and the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi were not immediately returned.

($1 U.S. = 62.125 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Chris Francescani; Editing by Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson)