NEW YORK: Preet Bharara, the Indian-American former Attorney for the Southern District of New York, has acknowledged in a new book that the strip-search which Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade was subject to following her arrest in 2013 for alleged visa fraud "could have and should have been avoided".
In a new book titled 'Doing Justice - A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment and the Rule of Law,' Bharara writes about Khobragade's arrest and charges filed against her.
The episode had caused a major diplomatic row between India and the US and plummeted bilateral relations to a new low.
Bharara writes in his book that in 2013, the State Department "arrested a mid-level female Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, for visa fraud in connection with lies about what she would pay her domestic worker."
He said the Southern District of New York had agreed to prosecute the case, at the State Department's 'explicit request".
"It was not the crime of the century but a serious offense nonetheless and a burgeoning problem among the diplomatic corps in the United States. That's why the State Department opened the case; that's why the State Department investigated it; that's why the career agents in the State Department asked career prosecutors in my office to approve criminal charges," he writes.
There was outrage in India over the arrest of Khobragade, who was then the country's Deputy Counsel General in New York, and reports that she had been strip-searched furthered caused anger in India.
"Khobragade was afforded a number of courtesies during the course of her arrest, because of her diplomatic status, but she was strip-searched per regular procedure by the US Marshals Service in the SDNY.
That could have and should have been avoided, given that no one would have sought pretrial detention," Bharara writes.
The admission that Khobragade's strip-search could and should have been avoided is the first by a former top prosecutor who had handled the case.
Following Khobragade's second indictment in the case in March 2014, the Ministry of External Affairs had expressed disappointment saying that this was an unnecessary step.
Any measures consequent to this decision in the US, will, unfortunately, impact upon efforts on both sides to build the India-US strategic partnership, to which both sides are committed.
Bharara said in the book that Khobragade's arrest had caused an international incident.
It was an election year in India, and the ruling Congress Party was in danger of an electoral bloodbath loss to the Indian nationalist BJP.
The BJP, the party of the future prime minister Narendra Modi, shrewdly seized upon this supposed Western insult to Indian sovereignty and caused a crisis for the Congress Party, he said in the book.
In the days following Khobragade's arrest and indictment, in a retaliatory action, India removed security barriers from outside the US Embassy in New Delhi.
The then secretary of state, John Kerry, was pressured to make the case go away.
The Indians threatened retaliation against our embassy in New Delhi and suggested taking privileges away from American diplomats.
At one point, as the Indian government raged, our largest democratic ally in the world "in its most hostile action removed security barriers from the outside of the U.S.embassy," Bharara said.
He however added that he is 'proud' of the case and 'how we upheld the rule of law,' despite he becoming the subject of hate and widespread criticism from various quarters across India.
"I defended our work, loudly. Because I was the US Attorney and I happened to be Indian-born, an avalanche of vitriol and bile came my way. Never mind that the case was initiated and investigated by career law enforcement officials, and I personally became aware of it only the day before the arrest. The Indian government and press decided that the case was brought by me "an Indian American" for all manner of nefarious reasons," he writes.
"Finally, I saw a peculiar line of attack in the foreign press, which was this: in a brazen betrayal of my roots, I had undertaken this case for only one reason to serve my 'white masters'. My white masters. These were, presumably, Eric Holder and Barack Obama," he writes.
Bharara was "fired" by the Trump administration in March 2017 after he refused to quit following orders to the 46 Obama administration-appointed attorneys to resign immediately.