US-India row over diplomat's public arrest, handcuffing

Devyani KhobragadeThe humiliating public arrest and handcuffing of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York on Thursday over alleged visa fraud and labour law violations has triggered a row between the US and India.

Foreign secretary Sujatha Singh on Friday summoned 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 Indian Foreign Service officer, a mid-level diplomat, 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.

Devyani was released by a Manhattan court on a $250,000 bond on Thursday evening even as the Indian embassy in Washington expressed ''strong concern'' over the unprecedented US action.

Khobragade was served the arrest warrant when she was dropping her daughters to school on Thursday morning in a case that is being prosecuted by the office of the Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara, an Indian-American, who had shot into prominence over the indictment of former McKinsey head Rajat Gupta for insider tradng.

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.

''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.

Citing Khobragade's diplomatic status, the Indian embassy in Washington urged the US government to ''resolve the matter with due sensitivity''.

Acting on a complaint by Richards, Bharara's office said the Indian diplomat as having fraudulently brought domestic help Sangeeta Richard from India by promising mandatory US wages ($9.75 per hour) and underpaying her ($3.11 per hour).

But Indian officials presented a more complicated picture of the case. They said the housekeeper has been absconding since June this year, and ''in this context the Delhi High Court had issued an interim injunction in September to restrain Richards from instituting any actions or proceedings against Dr Khobragade outside India on the terms or conditions of her employment.''

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 Rs30,000 ($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.

(See: Indian diplomat in US held over visa fraud allegations)