M A I N   N E W S

special to the tribune
Ashish Kumar Sen in Washington DC
Indian diplomatís arrest in US upsets Delhi
Deputy Consul General in New York, Devyani Khobragade, held for visa fraud; released on bail later

An Indian diplomat was arrested in New York on Thursday on the charge that she allegedly used "false and fraudulent" documents to support the US visa application for an Indian woman she employed as a babysitter and housekeeper.

Devyani Khobragade, Deputy Consul General for political, economic, commercial and women's affairs at the Consulate General of India in New York, has been charged with one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements, which carry maximum sentences of 10 years and five years in prison, respectively.

Khobragade was arrested as she was dropping her daughter to school in New York. She was released on Thursday evening on a $250,000 bond.

The Indian Embassy in Washington expressed its "strong concern" to the U.S. government over the arrest of Khobragade, said M. Sridharan, a spokesman for the embassy.

Khobragade's arrest was announced by Preet Bharara, the Punjab-born Indian-American US attorney for the Southern District of New York who has made a name for himself prosecuting white collar crime on Wall Street.

Bharara was instrumental in the successful prosecution of Rajat Gupta, the Indian-American former managing director of McKinsey and Co. and ex-board member at Goldman Sachs who has been found guilty of insider trading.

Diplomats in the US can apply for an A-3 visa for their domestic servants. Applicants must furnish evidence that their employee will be paid a wage comparable to that offered in the US. The A-3 visa application includes an employment contract signed by the employer and the employee which must state a description of duties, hours of work and the hourly wage.

Khobragade allegedly prepared an A-3 visa application for her employee -- identified by the Indian Embassy spokesman as Sangeeta Richard -- promising a wage of $4,500 per month. The employment contract stated that Khobragade would pay the prevailing or minimum wage, whichever is greater, resulting in an hourly salary of $9.75.

Khobragade knew that the employment contract she asked Richard to submit to the US Embassy in India for a visa contained fraudulent statements about the hourly wage to be offered and hours of work, according to the allegations in the criminal complaint unsealed in Manhattan federal court.

Khobragade and Richard had signed another contract in which they agreed to a salary of 30,000 rupees per month, which at the time was around $570 a month or $3.31 per hour. Khobragade allegedly instructed Richard to say she would work 40 hours a week and would be paid $9.75 an hour. Ms. Richard was paid even less than $3.31 per hour, according to the allegations.

Richard was employed by Khobragade in New York from November of 2012 until June of this year.

Action was apparently taken against hobragade on the basis of allegations made by Richard, said Mr. Sridharan, the spokesman for the Indian Embassy in Washington.

He said the Delhi High Court had issued an interim injunction in September to restrain Richard -- who has been "absconding" since June -- from instituting any actions or proceedings against Khobragade outside India on the terms or conditions of her employment.

"The US government had subsequently been requested to locate Richard and facilitate the service of an arrest warrant, issued by the Metropolitan Magistrate of the South District Court in New Delhi under Sections 387, 420 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code," Sridharan said.

"The US side have been urged to resolve the matter with due sensitivity, taking into account the existing court case in India that has already been brought to their attention by the Government of India, and the diplomatic status of the officer concerned," he added.

Bharara noted that foreign nationals brought to the US to serve as domestic workers are entitled to the same protections against exploitation as those afforded to US citizens.

"The false statements and fraud alleged to have occurred here were designed to circumvent those protections so that a visa would issue for a domestic worker who was promised far less than a fair wage. This type of fraud on the United States and exploitation of an individual will not be tolerated," said Bharara.

Khobragade, 39, is no stranger to controversy. She is the daughter of Uttam Khobragade, a former IAS officer. She received a flat in the controversial Adarsh Housing Society in Mumbai, which was intended for the families of Kargil War heroes. The flats were illegally allotted to top politicians, bureaucrats, senior Army officers and their families.

Khobragade, a former general manager of the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking, had helped the Adarsh Society secure additional building rights from the adjacent BEST bus depot. This allowed builders to raise the building from the original 6 floors to 31 floors.

Khobragade was investigated for not disclosing the fact that his daughter already owned a flat under government's quota. Under the Maharashtra Government's rules, an official applying for a flat under a government quota must provide a signed affidavit stating that he or she does not own any other flat.

Maid trouble in Manhattan 

* Devyani Khobragade (pic) is accused of making false statements in a visa application for an Indian national employed as a housekeeper at her home in New York.

* Diplomats in the US can apply for an A-3 visa for their domestic servants. Khobragade prepared an A-3 visa application for her housekeeper and promised that she would be paid $ 4,500 a month.

* An employment contract between the two parties said the diplomat would pay her the prevailing or minimum wage, whichever is greater, resulting in an hourly salary of $ 9.75.

* Prior to signing the contract, it was agreed between Khobragade and her housekeepr that she would be paid Rs 30,000 a month. At 40 hours a week, it was equivalent to $ 573.07 a month or & 3.31 an hour.

* Khobragade, however, allegedly instructed the housekeeper to say that she would be paid $ 9.75 an hour

* The housekeeper worked for Khobragade from Nov 2012 to June 2013. She worked far more than 40 hours a week and was paid less than $ 9.75 an hour, the complaint alleges.





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