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Embassy Row: India ‘shocked,’ ‘appalled’ by consular officer’s arrest

- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 15, 2013

The arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York is souring relations between Washington and New Delhi, as India expresses "outrage" over the detention and handcuffing of a consular officer while she was dropping off her daughter at a school in Manhattan.

The State Department over the weekend defended the charges of visa fraud, claiming the diplomat has immunity from arrest only for her official functions.

Prosecutors accuse Devyani Khobragade, the 39-year-old deputy consul-general in New York, of obtaining a visa for a domestic servant under false pretenses. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Preet Bharara, the Indian-born U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, also claimed Ms. Khobragade violated U.S. minimum-wage laws by paying Sangeeta Richard, an Indian citizen employed as a housekeeper and baby sitter, about one-third of what she was due.

"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," Mr. Bharara said after announcing the arrest and charges last week. "This type of fraud on the United States and the exploitation of an individual will not be tolerated."

Mr. Bharara emphasized the seriousness of the case against Ms. Khobragade, noting that the Justice Department's Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit played an integral role in the investigation and that his office's Organized Crime Unit will handle the trial.

The Indian Embassy denounced Ms. Khobragade's arrest and called on the State Department to sort out the case.

"The government of India is shocked and appalled at the manner in which she has been humiliated by the U.S. authorities," said embassy spokesman Sridharan Madhusudhanan.

In New Delhi, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid called the arrest "an insult." The Foreign Ministry over the weekend summoned U.S. Ambassador Nancy J. Powell to complain about the arrest.

India claims that Ms. Khobragade has immunity under an international treaty on consular relations, but the State Department says the protection covers only her work in the consul-general's office, which issues visas and passports and deals with matters involving Indian citizens in the New York area.

"We are handling this incident through law-enforcement channels," the State Department said.

Ms. Khobragade is accused of encouraging Ms. Richard to falsify documents and lie to U.S. diplomats in India to get a work visa as her domestic servant.

The criminal charges against Ms. Khobragade say she paid Ms. Richard about $3 an hour for a workweek that often extended beyond the normal 40 hours from November 2012 to June. Prosecutors say Ms. Richard should have received $9.75 an hour.

A magistrate released Ms. Khobragade on a $250,000 bond Thursday.

Ms. Khobragade's case is the second action against foreign diplomats in New York since Dec. 5, when prosecutors announced charges against 50 current or former Russian diplomats and their spouses in a $1.5 million Medicaid scam.

DIPLOMATIC TRAFFIC

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Monday

Michitaka Nakatomi of the Japan External Trade Organization and Yorizumi Watanabe, a professor of international political economy at Japan's Keio University. They address the Brookings Institution on U.S.-Japanese trade agreements.

Tuesday

Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator who addresses the Asia Society on U.S.-Iranian relations.

Embassy Row is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. James Morrison can be reached at jmorrison@washingtontimes.com or @EmbassyRow.

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