India Summons US Envoy Over Diplomat's Arrest
By IANS | Published: 13th December 2013 09:12 PM |
India Friday summoned the US envoy in New Delhi and conveyed its strong protest over the arrest and handcuffing of an Indian diplomat accused of visa fraud.
US Ambassador Nancy Powell was summoned to South Block by Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and told that the treatment meted out to Devyani Khobragade in New York was "absolutely unacceptable", said sources.
Khobragade, 39, India's deputy consul general in New York, was charged Thursday 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.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said in New Delhi that India was shocked and appalled at the manner in which Khobragade had been "humiliated by the US authorities".
"This is simply not acceptable to us," he said.
The spokesperson said the Indian diplomat was a young mother of two and was in the US in pursuance of her duties.
Khobragade, one of India's senior diplomats in New York, was arrested and accused by Manhattan's Indian American US Attorney Preet Bharara of visa fraud and exploiting her babysitter and housekeeper.
The diplomat was handcuffed in public by law enforcement authorities in New York Thursday while she was dropping her daughter at school.
Khobragade, who looks after political, economic, commercial and women's affairs at the consulate, pleaded not guilty to the charges in Manhattan Federal Court and was freed on $250,000 bail.
Akbaruddin said "there is nothing that entails humiliation of a young woman with two children publicly".
To a question about the allegation of visa fraud, the spokesperson said nothing absolves US authorities of having "humiliated, traumatized" the Indian diplomat performing her duties and the issues raised would be taken up at different fora.
The incident comes as a dampener in India-US ties days after the visit of Foreign Secretary Singh to Washington earlier this week during which she held talks with top US officials, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal.
Announcing the Indian diplomat's arrest in New York, Bharara alleged that she had caused "materially false and fraudulent statements" to be made in support of a visa application for an Indian national employed as a babysitter and housekeeper at her home in New York.
"This type of fraud on the United States and exploitation of an individual will not be tolerated," he said.
The Indian embassy in Washington said action was apparently taken against Khobragade "on the basis of allegations raised by the officer's former India-based domestic assistant, Sangeeta Richard, who has been absconding since June this year".
The embassy statement said: "The Delhi High Court had issued an interim injunction in September to restrain Richards 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," it said.
Bharara, on the other hand, alleged that Khobragade had prepared and electronically submitted an application for an A-3 visa for an Indian national, who was to be her personal employee at a monthly salary of $4,500 per month.
The First Employment Contract stated, among other things, that Khobragade would pay the unnamed "Witness-1 the prevailing or minimum wage, whichever is greater, resulting in an hourly salary of $9.75".
However, prior to the signing of the First Employment Contract, Khobragade and Witness-1 had agreed that she would pay Rs.30,000 per month, which at the time was equivalent to $573.07.
She also instructed Witness-1 to say that she would work 40 hours per week, and that her duty hours would be 7 a.m. to 12.30 p.m., and 6.30 p.m. to 8.30 p.m.
She told Witness-1 that the First Employment Contract was a formality to get the visa, the statement alleged.
In fact, witness-1 worked for Khobragade as a household employee in New York from November 2012 through June 2013 for more than 40 hours per week and was paid less than 30,000 rupees per month, or $3.31 per hour, it alleged.
In June 2011, a former housekeeper had sued India's then consul general in New York Prabhu Dayal accusing him of intimidating her into a year of forced labour. A year later he reportedly settled the case on undisclosed terms.