Unfazed by the outrage over the arrest and subsequent treatment of senior Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, the India-born US prosecutor Preet Bharara today defended the action against her and confirmed that her maid's family has been "evacuated" from India.
Acknowledging that maid Sangeeta Richard's family has been brought to the US, Bharara said a legal process was started in India to "silence her and attempts were made to compel her to return to India".
A 1999 batch IFS officer, Khobragade, India's Deputy Consul General in New York, was arrested on December 12 on visa fraud charges by the State Department's diplomatic security bureau, and then handed over to the US Marshals Service (USMS).
In her complaint, the maid accused the diplomat of violating US laws by underpaying her and forcing her to work for 19 hours a day.
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.
In a statement here, Bharara said the victim's family was confronted in numerous ways regarding this case. "Some focus should perhaps be put on why it was necessary to evacuate the family and what actions were taken in India vis-a-vis them. This office and the Justice Department are compelled to make sure that the victims, witnesses and their families are safe and secure while cases are pending." "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.
In Washington, the Indian Embassy in a statement alleged that the US government did not respond to its series of requests of tracing the Indian maid, who was missing since June last year, and preventing her from blackmailing Khobragade.
According to the statement, the Embassy and the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi have been taking up the maid's matter with the US State Department and the US Embassy in New Delhi since June this year. "No response was received from the US side for any of these communications," it said, giving details of the series of communications it made to the US Government in the last several months.
The Embassy said it received State Department's letter dated September 4, which requested it to enquire into the allegations brought in by the maid disputing her terms of employment with Khobragade and seeking the findings of the Embassy.
The letter, sources said, was one-sided and projected the interest of the missing maid and did not take note of any of the communications made by the Indian officials to the US in this regard.
As a result, both the Indian Embassy in Washington DC and the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi in separate but similar communications to them said that the "tone and the content" of the letter was objectionable.
In his three-page unusual explanation, Bharara said that Khobragade evaded US laws designed to protect the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers from exploitation.
Rebutting reports of the diplomat not being given proper treatment, he claimed she was "accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens, are accorded."
The US prosecutor denied that she was arrested in front of her children and handcuffed. "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.