Indian Diplomat Arrested, Strip Searched on Warrant by Indian American Prosecutor
Indian Diplomat Arrested and Strip Searched in New York – Warrant Issued by Indian American Known for Targeting Indians
In an astounding development for diplomatic circles, Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, was arrested on December 12th after she dropped her daughter off at school. She was handcuffed at the courthouse, and then strip-searched in a holding cell with other female inmates, without any deference given to her diplomatic status.
Court papers allege that Mrs. Khobragade, 39, had submitted false documents to obtain a work visa for her female housekeeper, paying her less than the amount stated. Her family alleges that her domestic had agreed to a salary of Rs. 30,000/month, which is around nearly ten times that paid to domestic staff in most Indian cities but less than the minimum wage in New York State. Though it violates US Law, t is routine practice for embassies to pay employees according to the wage rate of their home country rather than according to the rates applicable in the United States – and normally, this practice is ignored by all law enforcement. In fact, one diplomat noted that “if they (United States Government) applied such diligence, equally among all 194 missions, our missions would be bare, with consular and other officers languishing in jail.”
Not so in this case. Interestingly, the arrest warrant was issued by US Attorney for the State of New York Preet Bharara, born to Sikh and Hindu parents in Punjab, India, but a naturalized US citizen. The prominent Indian American, Bharara has rrecently come under the scanner in South Block for targeting Indians. Previously he had prosecuted Rajat Gupta former CEO of McKinsey Consulting, Anil Kumar, and others of Indian origin for insider trading, offering deals to white American co-conspirators in order to nab the brown-skinned origin culprits. It is widely expected that Mr. Bharara, who has enjoyed making a splash in the media with high profile cases, is planning a future political run in the United States, and this latest high profile arrest on what legal experts agree is a petty charge, would play into such plans, if they exist.
The domestic worker, named Sangeeta Richard had absconded in June, 2013, after demanding more money from Khobragade, threatening her employer, prompting a court in New Delhi to issue a warrant for her arrest, which was relayed to the US. Mr. Bharara decided to ignore the Delhi warrant, instead issuing a warrant for Mrs. Khobragade’s arrest. Delhi had issued an injunction against civil proceedings by Ms. Richard against Mrs. Khobragade, as per the employment contract signed by Ms. Richard, and with this legal recourse removed, Mr. Bharara decided to treat the matter as a criminal one. To add to the intrigue, the allegedly fraudulent contract was signed only by Ms. Richard and does not bear the signature of her employer, prompting Mrs. Khobragade’s father to say if a crime was committed, the perpetrator was Ms. Richard – and her alone. Ms. Richard claims that she was ‘forced’ to sign the contract by Mrs. Khobragade. The domestic worker’s whereabouts are unknown, though she is listed as “Witness 1” on Preet Bharar’s witness sheet, and her parents arrived in the US on 10th December, two days prior to Mrs. Khobragade’s arrest, leading to speculation that Mr. Bharara had arranged an immigration deal with his star witness.
While this case brings to light the plight of domestic workers, who are often exploited when brought to the West either by diplomats or immigrants, it is certainly a case of selective prosecution. It brings to mind the case of Canadian MP Ruby Dhalla, who lost her seat in part due to a scandal involving mistreatment of a foreign domestic, one wonders how Ms. Khogragade would have managed to pay her domestic as per legal rates when her own income is $400 less per month than the stipulated $4,500, which is claimed to be her domestic’s salary in the visa documents. And, the question of why prosecute this, now, so long after the visa document was submitted, remains an important question. Who benefits? Certainly not the Indo-US relationship.
The US State Department was apparently blindsided by Mr. Bharara who had not given them prior notice of his plans to arrest Mrs. Khobrakade, which is the normal protocol – and Secretary of State John Kerry claimed no foreknowledge, calling Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon to voice his regret over the manner in which the diplomat was treated as well as his concern that both countries not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt the United States’ “close and vital relationship with India”.
Still, the Indian Government lodged a protest with the State Department, and is taking the matter very seriously. While Mrs. Khobragade, a consular official does not enjoy full diplomatic immunity, US law mandates its officials to arrest consular officials only for serious crimes on the basis of a warrant. It is another matter whether Mrs. Khobragade’s offence was serious enough to warrant her arrest in such a dramatic fashion. She has since been transferred to the Permanent UN Mission – a post with full diplomatic immunity.
The legal position of the United States is certainly hypocritical when one considers that on January 27, 2011, American, Raymond Allen Davis killed two reportedly armed men in Lahore, Pakistan. The U.S. government contended that he was protected by diplomatic immunity because of his employment with the U.S. Consulate in Lahore, though Davis was a private contractor and not an employee of the US government. Davis was never punished and was returned to teh US after the victims’ families were paid substantial ‘blood money’.
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History of Devyani Case Paints Sinister Picture
That Devyani Khobragade had filed a written complaint with the Delhi Police against Sangeeta Richard and her husband Philip Richard, accusing them of cheating seems to have been egregiously ignored by prosecutor Preet Bharara and even US Diplomoatic officials during the troubling affair.
Highly placed sources have told The Global Cacluttan that Sangeeta Richard, the maid at the centre of the controversy, was previously employed by a senior US diplomat, and could have used her connections to get the US to ‘look the other way’ regarding wrong-doing alleged by her employer Devyani Khobragade. Another intriguing part of the unfolding story is that a visa was issued to Richard family—Sangeeta’s husband Philip and their two children and they left the country by an Air India flight on December 10, even as New Delhi was engaging with Washington on the issue.
Investigation by this web-site has uncovered some of the background leading the disquieting affair unfolded, with the Indian Deputy Consul General finding being prevented by New York Police Department (NYPD) to even to lodge a missing persons report for Sangeeta Richard with, and how the US ignored India’s plea for action against Richard and instead piled pressure on India.
The timeline, which follows, details, by date each significant event:
NOVEMBER 2012: Sangeeta Richard enters the United States with Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade.
JUNE 23, 2013: Richard leaves the residence of Khobragade, without any concern for the welfare of the children whose care is one the responsibilities of her job. In Delhi, her husband says he has no idea where she is. Richard, citing the need for money, had some days earlier sought Khobragade’s permission to take up another part-time job in New York; it was denied. Richards threatens Khobragade with consequences, and then absconds from the premises.
JUNE 24, 2013: Office of Foreign Missions (OFM) in New York informed, and its help requested in tracing Richard.
The OFM advises her to file a missing persons report with the nearest police precinct, and when she attempts to do so but is told by NYPD that she could not since Richard was an adult, and that such a report could only be lodged by a member of her family. She arranges to contact Sangeeta Richard’s husband, as a result but he refused to file a Missing Person Report, despite denying any knowledge of her whereabouts, which puzzles Khobragade and the OFM.
JUNE 25, 2013: Unable to file a report, Khobragade sends a letter to the police precinct concerned, requesting them to file a missing person report and trace Richard.
Sustained efforts resulted in the NYPD seeking inspection of Khobragade’s residence. As diplomatic premises are out of bounds for local law enforcement agencies, Khobragade was interviewed in front of the Permanent Mission of India, her residence, and a missing person report filed by the NYPD.
JULY 1, 2013: An unknown woman claiming to be the Richard’s lawyer calls Khobragade to tell her that Richards demanding that Khobragade sign a 566 form authorising the maid to terminate her employment, failing which the matter would be pursued through civil, possibly criminal action. The woman further demands that Khobragade arrange to have change Richards’ visa status from government visa to normal visa, as well as remit to her ‘back-pay” for 19 hours of work per day, and demanding this sum in cash. Khobragade refuses to negotiate on phone, insisting that the caller first identify herself; the caller abruptly hangs up.
JULY 2, 2013: Khobragade informs the OFM about these developments in writing, seeking NYPD support in ascertaining the identity of the caller and her links with Richard, given that the conversations clearly indicate that the runaway maid has no intention of returning to India and seems keen to extort money by making false accusations.
She further informs the NYPD of her suspicion that Richards intention from the start was to immigrate to the United States under false pretenses. Her status as of now is of an illegal alien.
No action is taken.
Khobragade files a written complaint with the Delhi Police against Sangeeta Richard and her husband Philip Richard, accusing them of cheating under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code, and asking the police to book them for the offence and recover the maid’s official passport.
JULY 5, 2013: Khobragade files complaint of “aggravated harassment” with respect to the phone call received on July 1 for extortion and blackmail. No action taken by NYPD. Michael Phillips, Director (Human Resources) at the US embassy in New Delhi, is called by senior MEA official and briefed about missing maid, reports filed with the US State Department and NYPD, and the FIR filed in India against Sangeeta Richard. The assistance of the State Department and US Embassy is emphatically solicited in locating the maid and sending her back to India to pre- empt this being used as an immigration channel.
The US Embassy conveys its understanding and promises to follow- up with the State Department and local authorities.
No feedback is received India’s requests, however.
Similar requests were made by the Indian Embassy in Washington DC to the State Department in Washington DC.
Lack of cooperation by Philip Richard prompts Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to advise Khobragade on filing a First Information Report in Delhi against the Richard family for wilful deceit and attempt to cheat to illegally immigrate to the US by wrongful means.
Based on the MEA’s advice, Khobragade also filed for an anticipatory anti-suit injunction in the Delhi High Court so as to prevent filing of any case in the US by Richard to avoid ensuing litigation in the US.
JULY 8, 2013: Khobragade is called to ‘Access Immigration’, Richard’s husband did not cooperate to discuss terms of settlement with Richard. Accompanied by the consulate officers, Khobragade meets Richard whose seeks payment of $10,000, grant of an ordinary Indian passport along with whatever immigration relief is required to stay on in the US on that ordinary passport.
Consulate officials tell Richard that she cannot remain in the US under any circumstances without legal authorisation, and that she should return to India as per her contract with Khobragade.
Richard is told that any argument over salary or working hours could be settled in the consulate before her return to India. Richard refuses, saying that she wants to remain in the US. Khobragade complains to the NYPD about the demands, but there is no response.
Richard’s passport is revoked and notice for termination of her personal identity also given to OFM with effect from June 22, 2013. Richard is now staying illegally in the US. Felony / theft charge filed with NYPD against Richard by Khobragade’s husband, reporting theft of cash, Blackberry phone, two SIM cards, a metro card (valued at $ 113) and documents such as contracts, signed receipt book- cum- working hour log. No action taken.
JULY 15 & 19, 2013: Philip Richard filed a writ petition against Khobragade and the Union of India, alleging that his wife Sangeeta Richard was in police custody in New York since July 8, 2013, charging the Indian diplomat with “slave labour” and illegally making Sangeeta sign a ‘second contract’ with far less pay and perks. The Union of India is accused of not paying according to the requirements of the local law. Richard withdraws his writ petition four days later.
JULY 30, 2013: A copy of Philip Richard’s writ petition is forwarded to OFM, which states that Sangeeta is in police custody in New York, for producing the maid at the Consulate so she can be repatriated to India as requested by her husband in his writ petition. Consul General is also informed that Richard was last seen at the office of Access Immigration on July 8, 2013. No action taken by the US.
SEPTEMBER 4, 2013: US State Department issues a one-sided letter to the Indian Ambassador, projecting the allegations of the maid which are of “considerable concern”, and asking for the allegations to be probed.
It also seeks a voluntary meeting between Khobragade and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security in the State Department as well as proof of payment of minimum wages from the embassy.
SEPTEMBER 10, 2013: In Delhi, MEA calls US officials and strongly protests against the tone and content of the letter.
SEPTEMBER 20, 2013: Delhi High Court issues an ex-parte ad interim injunction against Philip and Sangeeta Richard, restraining them from initiating any legal action or proceedings against Khobragade in any Court/Tribunal/Forum outside India with regard to her employment.
The final hearing in the matter is scheduled December 13, 2013.
SEPTEMBER 21, 2013: A reply is sent to the State Department by the Indian Embassy in Washington, rebutting the allegations and bringing out the facts of the case while highlighting the fact that Sangeeta Richard is seeking monetary settlement and a US visa, thereby seeking to subvert both Indian and US laws.
The letter also emphasises that the matter is an issue between the Government of India and one of its employees and is not subject to US regulation or adjudication. Assistance of the State Department is sought in locating and repatriating Sangeeta Richard to India.
NOVEMBER 19, 2013: Metropolitan Magistrate of South District, New Delhi, issues a nonbailable arrest warrant against Sangeeta Richard.
DECEMBER 6, 2013: The arrest warrant issued by the Delhi Metropolitan court is forwarded to the US State Department and the US Embassy in New Delhi, requesting them to instruct the relevant authorities in the US to arrest and repatriate Sangeeta Richard to India through the Consulate in New York, so that due process of law may be prosecuted in India. No action is taken by the US.
DECEMBER 12, 2013: Richards’ husband and parents are flown into the United States. Who paid for the ticket, and how Richards’ husband against whom an First Information Report (FIR) has been filed in Delhi was granted a US Visa, remains a mystery. Two days later, Prosecutor Preet Bharara has Kobragade arrested in front of her children’s school. Many suspect that Bharara influenced immigration and naturalization officials, so Richards’ family could get visas to visit the US as is not uncommon in the United States when a powerful and aggressive prosecutor is in pursuit of a case with an international dimension.
DECEMBER 12, 2013: Khobragade arrested on the basis of a Second District court warrant for visa fraud as she drops her daughter to school in New York. Immunity is denied under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR) for this “felony charge” Bail posted at $ 250,000, Khobragade’s passport is seized, and she is asked not to leave the country or seek another travel document though she can travel within the US after notifying authorities. She is been not to be in touch with Sangeeta Richard. Khobragade despite no history of criminal activity, is put in a holding cell with hardened criminals, drug addicts, and prostitutes, people with AIDs and Hepatitis C. There she is strip searched and cavity searched, an unthinkable act, tantamount to violating Indian Rape Laws.
JANUARY 13, 2014: Next date of hearing is announced, but Khobragade’s attorney claims he is not free that day and is negotiating another date, which will be known in due course.
Pre-trial process commenced on December 16, 2013 where a urine sample was taken by US authorities for drugs testing.