Charges against Devyani Khobragade dismissed; US prosecutors obtain new indictment – Jennifer Peltz

Devyani Khobragade

Jennifer Peltz“The [arrest of diplomat Devyani Khobragade] chilled U.S.-Indian relations, and India took such steps as removing concrete traffic barriers around the U.S. Embassy and revoking diplomats’ ID cards. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called a top Indian official to express his regret over what happened. After being indicted, Khobragade complied with a Department of State request to leave the U.S. The Indian government then asked Washington to withdraw a diplomat from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. The U.S. complied.” – Jennifer Peltz

Preet BhararaNEW YORK — An Indian diplomat whose arrest and strip-search spurred an international flap had the case against her dismissed by a federal judge on Wednesday, but prosecutors suggested they might refile the charges stemming from claims she exploited her housekeeper.

For now, at least, Wednesday’s ruling closes the case against Devyani Khobragade on the grounds of diplomatic immunity. The judge found Khobragade had broad immunity from prosecution when she was indicted on charges of fraudulently obtaining a work visa for her housekeeper and lying to the government about the maid’s pay.

But the ruling left open the possibility prosecutors could bring a new indictment against her, and they “intend to proceed accordingly,” said James Margolin, a spokesman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Khobragade’s attorney, Daniel Arshack, said the former deputy general consul, now back in her homeland, was pleased by the ruling.

“She is heartened that the rule of law prevailed,” he said, adding that a new indictment “might be viewed an aggressive act and one that (prosecutors) would be ill-advised to pursue.”

Khobragade was arrested in December, with prosecutors saying she claimed she paid her Indian maid $4,500 per month to get the woman a visa but actually paid her less than the U.S. minimum wage. Prosecutors said the maid received less than $3 per hour for her work.

The arrest outside Khobragade’s daughter’s Manhattan school created outrage in India, particularly because of the strip-search. The U.S. Marshals said Khobragade was treated no differently than others who are arrested, and Bharara said Khobragade was arrested discreetly, given coffee and offered food while detained and afforded courtesies most Americans wouldn’t get, such as being allowed to make phone calls for two hours to arrange child care and sort out personal matters.

Bharara, who was born in India but moved with his family to New Jersey, also said Khobragade wasn’t handcuffed, restrained or arrested in front of her children.

Still, many in India saw the arrest as unnecessarily humiliating. Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon called the treatment “despicable and barbaric.”

Khobragade had pleaded not guilty. Indian officials said the housekeeper had tried to blackmail the diplomat, which the housekeeper’s advocates disputed.

The episode chilled U.S.-Indian relations, and India took such steps as removing concrete traffic barriers around the U.S. Embassy and revoking diplomats’ ID cards. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called a top Indian official to express his regret over what happened.

After being indicted, Khobragade complied with a Department of State request to leave the U.S. The Indian government then asked Washington to withdraw a diplomat from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. The U.S. complied.

Wednesday’s ruling centered on the complexities of different levels of legal protection afforded to diplomats. When Khobragade was arrested, U.S. officials said her status as a consular officer provided immunity limited to acts performed in the exercise of official functions. She disagreed, and then, on the day before her Jan. 9 indictment, she got a new appointment that conferred wider immunity.

Regardless of Khobragade’s status when she was arrested, her later appointment gave her immunity when indicted and means the case must be dismissed, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote. And while Khobragade’s immunity ended when she left the country, the indictment still could not stand, the judge wrote.

The judge said that mooted the question of whether the crimes Khobragade was accused of committing would have been considered “official acts” covered by the earlier, more limited immunity. If not, the judge wrote, “then there is currently no bar to a new indictment against Khobragade.”

Since Khobragade does not have immunity now and courts have yet to settle what protection she had when arrested, that leaves a potential path for a new indictment, though any new case might be complicated by Khobragade’s absence from the U.S.

She is in New Delhi, continuing to work for the government in foreign affairs, Arshack said.

“She’s hugely frustrated” by her arrest and prosecution, he said. – AP, 12 March 2014


US prosecutors secure new indictment against Indian diplomat Khobragade — Joseph Ax — Reuters — March 15th

A grand jury in New York has returned a new indictment against Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade for visa fraud, two days after a U.S. judge dismissed a similar indictment because she had diplomatic immunity.

Khobragade’s arrest in December and a subsequent strip search drew outrage in India, causing a major diplomatic rift between the United States and India.

The United States granted her immunity and then essentially had her expelled from the country in a flurry of diplomatic maneuvers on Jan. 9, the same day she was indicted for the first time.

“Unfortunately, I can have no comment at this stage,” Khobragade’s lawyer, Daniel Arshack, said in an email. “The government of India will respond in due course.”

The new indictment effectively returns the case to where it was before Wednesday’s dismissal.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled on Wednesday that Khobragade, who was India’s deputy consul-general in New York, had diplomatic immunity when she sought on Jan. 9 to dismiss the indictment, and thus could not be prosecuted for alleged underpayment of her nanny.

A spokesman for Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, said at the time that the ruling did not bar prosecutors from seeking a new indictment based on the same charges, now that she has left the country.

In Friday’s move, the grand jury indicted Khobragade for visa fraud and making false statements. Prosecutors have accused her of forcing Sangeeta Richard, her housekeeper and nanny, to work 100-hour weeks at a salary of just over $1 an hour, far below the U.S. legal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

With Khobragade in India, the new indictment does not appear to have any immediate practical consequences.

Bharara’s office did not immediately comment.

A State Department spokeswoman said this week that the agency’s position was that Khobragade had full immunity from prosecution only for a single day in January and no longer enjoyed protection from prosecution once she left the country.

The dispute over Khobragade’s arrest set off reprisals against U.S. diplomats and the removal of some security barriers near the U.S. embassy in India.

It also led to the postponement of trips by U.S. officials and business executives to India, imperiling U.S. efforts to strengthen ties between the two countries. – Reuters, 15 March 2014

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  1. India slams fresh indictment against Devyani by US prosecutors – Press Trust of India – New Delhi – March 15, 2014

    Reacting strongly to the second indictment against its diplomat Devyani Khobragade in the US, India on Saturday said it was an “unnecessary” step and any measure consequent to the decision will “unfortunately” impact upon efforts on both sides to build India-US strategic partnership.

    Making clear that as far as India is concerned the case has no merit, the Spokesperson in the External Affairs Ministry said, now that Khobragade has returned, the court in the US has no jurisdiction in India over her and government will therefore no longer engage on this case in the US legal system.

    “We are disappointed that the relevant office of the United States Department of Justice chose to obtain a second indictment against Devyani Khobragade, despite the fact that the first indictment and arrest warrant were dismissed earlier this week,” the Spokesperson in the External Affairs Ministry said.

    India’s reaction came after US prosecutors re-indicted her on visa fraud charges and accused the Indian diplomat of ”illegally” underpaying and “exploiting” her domestic maid.

    The second indictment, which came a day after a US court dismissed an earlier indictment, accused her of visa fraud and making false statements about the visa application of her maid Sangeeta Richard.

    The 21-page indictment, filed by the office of India-born US prosecutor Preet Bharara, 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 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.”

    An arrest warrant was today issued against Khobragade in the US after her fresh indictment.

    The 39-year-old diplomat, who was arrested in New York on December 12th, 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.

    The 1999-batch IFS officer, who was released on a USD 250,000 bond, was later granted full diplomatic immunity and she flew back to India on January 10th. She has since been transferred to the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi.

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