A senior Indian diplomat in New York was arrested on Thursday for alleged visa fraud, triggering a diplomatic row between the two countries with foreign secretary Sujatha Singh summoning US ambassador to India Nancy Powell to convey shock over the “absolutely unacceptable” public handcuffing of the woman official.
Singh told Powell the diplomat was entitled to courtesies under multilateral conventions dealing with officials posted in foreign countries.
The IFS officer is accused of giving false information while applying for a visa for a “babysitter and housekeeper” she brought from India, and of underpaying the help. She could get up to 15 years in jail if convicted.
Reacting to the incident, external affairs ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said, "You cannot humiliate a mother of two publicly,”
“We are shocked and appalled at the manner in which she has been humiliated by the US authorities”, he said.
“We have taken it up forcefully with the US government through our embassy in Washington. We are also reiterating, in no uncertain terms, to US embassy here that this kind of treatment to one of our diplomats is absolutely unacceptable," Akabaruddin said.
In a major diplomatic embarrassment for India, Devyani, 39, was arrested and handcuffed in public before being released on a $250,000 bond after pleading not guilty in court.
She was taken into custody on a street as she was dropping her daughter to school, after the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, India-born Preet Bharara, announced charges of visa fraud against her. The next hearing is on January 13.
Citing Khobragade’s diplomatic status, the Indian embassy in Washington urged the US government to “resolve the matter with due sensitivity”.
Identifying the help as Sangeeta Richard, it said she was “absconding” since June and there was already an interim order from the Delhi high court restraining her from initiating legal proceedings against Khobragade outside India.
A Delhi court subsequently issued an arrest warrant for Richard, which was conveyed to the US with a request to find her and serve it on her, the embassy said.
But the case made out by Bharara’s office was different. It said Khobragade had applied for an A-3 visa for Richard and signed an agreement undertaking she would pay her $4,500 a month.
But, the US attorney’s office alleged, Khobragade had already struck a deal with Richard for a monthly salary of Rs 30,000 ($573).
At the visa interview, under Khobragade’s instructions, Richard repeated the terms of the fictitious agreement, it claimed.
“This type of fraud on the US and exploitation of an individual will not be tolerated,” said Bharara.
An 11-page criminal complaint unsealed in the court alleged Khobragade made false statements about the salary and employment terms of Richard.
The charges carry prison sentences ranging between five and 10 years.
Richard has alleged she was to be paid $4,500 per month according to the employment contract furnished for her visa, but Devyani later changed it to $537 a month.
Richard also complained she was forced to work more than 40 hours a week.
Diplomats and consular officers can get domestic workers on A-3 visas after submitting proofs that the helper will receive a fair wage, sufficient to support himself financially and comparable to that offered in the same area in the US.