Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, whose arrest triggered a diplomatic row between India and the US, could not have promised her housekeeper a salary of $4,500 a month when that's about how much she earned herself, her lawyer said on Monday.
Daniel Arshack alleged that the investigators mistook the amount of $4,500 on Sangeeta Richard's visa application as her monthly salary, which, in fact, was her employer's salary.
Mark Smith, the bureau of diplomatic security agent who processed the arrest and drew up the affidavit, "simply made an error" in reading Richard's visa form - the DS 160 - Arshack said.
"He erroneously read the $4,500 a month salary entry on the form as the domestic worker's expected salary when, in fact, it was clearly a reporting of the base salary to be earned by the diplomat in the United States," said Arshack.
That figure was mentioned in Richard's visa application only to assure US officials that Khobragade would be drawing enough to pay Richard the $1,560 a month promised to her in the contract submitted with her visa form, he added.
In effect, the two documents gave two different numbers.
The visa application had $4,500 and the employment contract submitted in support figured a sum of $1,560 - what was promised to Richard at $9.75 an hour, 40 hours a week, 4 weeks a month.
The office of US attorney of the southern district of New York Preet Bharara, which is prosecuting the case, said it had no comments to offer on Khobragade's lawyer's allegations.
The number $4,500 has long been a matter of speculation, with some claiming the diplomat had erroneously put her own monthly salary on Richard's application.
Though Arshack put that theory to rest on Monday, he didn't explain how this number tracked with the sum actually promised and paid to the housekeeper - Rs 30,000 a month.
In a complaint filed in a New York federal court, Smith had alleged that Richard worked "far more" than 40 hours a week, and was paid less than $9.75 an hour.
In fact, the agent alleged, the housekeeper was paid even less than the amount that was promised to her in the oral agreement, the second contract: Rs 30,000 at $3.31 an hour - roughly $570 a month but still $1,000 short.
Arshack claimed Khobragade paid $570 "directly to her husband as per the second contract".
"The balance of her income (about $1,000 per month) was paid directly to her in New York," the lawyer said, adding, "There was no money withheld from her."
It wasn't clear, though how the lawyer's new line of argument would help Khobragade, who on Monday received her UN badge allowing her access to the world body's facilities.
The UN has forwarded her application to the US for an identity card that would give her full immunity unlike its truncated version she had as a consular officer at the Indian mission.
To complete the transfer process, the US will also issue Khobragade a G-1 visa required by foreigners working at the US, from A-1 that is issued to regular diplomats.
Khobragade's new assignment is that of a counselor handling political affairs at India's Permanent Mission, said a colleague, who did not want to be identified.
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