Bharara strikes again: US court re-opens case against Devyani Khobragade

15 Mar 2014


Fresh from the blushes of a New York court throwing out a case of alleged fraud against Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, a New York grand jury has re-indicted Khobragade on two counts of underpaying her housekeeper and falsifying a visa application, re-opening a case that triggered a bitter row with New Delhi.

A US attorney of Indian origin Preet Bharara said an arrest warrant has been issued against Devyani Khobragade as US prosecutors today re-indicted her on visa fraud charges and accused the Indian diplomat of "illegally" underpaying and "exploiting" her domestic maid.

In a letter to United States District Judge William Pauley, Bharara, attorney for the southern district of New York, said Khobragade is "believed" to be in India and the court will be alerted if and when she is arrested.

"An arrest warrant was also issued today. The government will alert the court immediately upon the defendant's arrest so that an appearance before Your Honour may be scheduled. At present, the defendant is believed to be in India," Bharara said in the letter.

The Manhattan federal prosecutor announced the reopening of the case two days after a single-judge court threw out the previous case of fraud against Khobragade on the grounds that the consul enjoyed diplomatic immunity.

The US Administration has expressed ''surprise'' over the dismissal of a federal indictment against the Indian diplomat, even as Indian authorities welcomed the court decision (See: US court dismisses criminal charges against Devyani Khobragade).

''We were surprised by the dismissal of the indictment against former Indian Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade,'' state department spokesperson Jen Psaki said, a day after a New York court dismissed the indictment against Devyani Khobragade.

By reopening the case, the US administration is trying to protect itself against possible prosecution against the arrest and strip-search of Devyani Khobragade, after she won dismissal of the case against her with a US judge ruling she had full diplomatic immunity.

The judge while giving the ruling, however, left open the possibility that US prosecutors could bring a new indictment against Khobragade.

Devyani Khobragade was arrested on 12 December 2013 outside her children's New York school. She was detained along with vagabonds and strip-searched, which enraged diplomatic circles world over.

Although India claimed full diplomatic immunity for her, the US administration and its Indian origin attorney Preet Bharara was adamant that she be prosecuted on the basis of a case filed by her estranged maid servant Sangeeta Richards, who herself was under investigation in India.

US District Judge Shira Scheindlin dismissed the indictment on Wednesday on the grounds that Khobragade was granted full diplomatic immunity on 8 January.

A spokesman for Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the southern district of New York, said they intended to re-charge the diplomat.

According to him, the court only found that Khobragade had immunity "during a limited period of time between 8 January and 9 January, when the current indictment was returned by a grand injury.

"As the court indicted in this decision, and as Devyani Khobragade has conceded, there is currently no bar to a new indictment against her for her alleged criminal conduct, and we intend to proceed accordingly."

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