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Devyani Khobragade: Indian diplomat "accorded courtesies", says prosecutor Preet Bharara

Thursday, 19 December 2013 - 9:28am IST Updated: Thursday, 19 December 2013 - 11:02am IST | Agency: PTI

Unfazed by the controversy generated by the case of senior Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, US prosecutor Preet Bharara today said that she was "accorded courtesies" and not handcuffed when she was arrested.

He also vowed to hold those breaking the law accountable "no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are." In a lengthy and unusual explanation, Bharara said there has been "misinformation and factual inaccuracy" in the reporting on the Khobragade case which is "creating an inflammatory atmosphere."

"There has been much misinformation and factual inaccuracy in the reporting on the charges against Devyani Khobragade. It is important to correct these inaccuracies because they are misleading people and creating an inflammatory atmosphere on an unfounded basis," he said.

"Although I am quite limited in my role as a prosecutor in what I can say, which in many ways constrains my ability here to explain the case to the extent I would like, I can nevertheless make sure the public record is clearer than it has been thus far," Bharara said.

Bharara, Manhattan's top federal prosecutor, maintained that Khobragade evaded US laws designed to protect the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers from exploitation.

"This Office's sole motivation in this case, as in all cases, is to uphold the rule of law, protect victims, and hold accountable anyone who breaks the law – no matter what their societal status and no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are," he said.

He further said that legal attempts had begun in India against the victim, who had worked as a domestic help for Khobragade, and attempts were being made to "silence" her.

He said the domestic help's family was brought to the United States to ensure the safety of victims, witnesses and their families, while cases are pending.

He said that she was charged based on conduct as is alleged in the court complaint, that "shows she clearly tried to evade US law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers." A 1999 batch IFS officer, Khobragade, India's Deputy Consul General in New York, was arrested on December 12 by the State Department's diplomatic security bureau, and then handed over to the US Marshals Service (USMS).

Khobragade was taken into custody as she was dropping her daughter to school before being released on a USD 250,000 bond after pleading not guilty in court.

Accusing Khobragade of fraud, he said: "Not only did she try to evade the law, but as further alleged, she caused the victim and her spouse to attest to false documents and be a part of her scheme to lie to US government officials." "So it is alleged not merely that she sought to evade the law, but that she affirmatively created false documents and went ahead with lying to the US government about what she was doing."

One wonders whether any government would not take action regarding false documents being submitted to it in order to bring immigrants into the country, he said.

"One wonders even more pointedly whether any government would not take action regarding that alleged conduct where the purpose of the scheme was to unfairly treat a domestic worker in ways that violate the law."

"And one wonders why there is so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?" Bharara, who has drawn flak over the treatment meted out to Khobragade while she was being arrested, said Khobragade was "accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens, are accorded." "She was not, as has been incorrectly reported, arrested in front of her children. The agents arrested her in the most discreet way possible, and unlike most defendants, she was not then handcuffed or restrained."

"In fact, the arresting officers did not even seize her phone as they normally would have. Instead, they offered her the opportunity to make numerous calls to arrange personal matters and contact whomever she needed, including allowing her to arrange for child care."

He said the entire process lasted approximately two hours and since it was cold outside, the agents let her make those calls from their car and "even brought her coffee and offered to get her food."

He acknowledged that Khobragade was "fully searched" by a female Deputy Marshal "in a private setting" when she was brought into the US Marshals' custody, "but this is standard practise for every defendant, rich or poor, American or not, in order to make sure that no prisoner keeps anything on his person that could harm anyone, including himself. 

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