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Devyani Khobragade requests court to extend indictment deadline

Tuesday, 7 January 2014 - 10:14am IST | Place: NEW YORK | Agency: PTI

Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade has requested a court here to extend the deadline for charging her in a visa fraud case, saying the "pressure of the impending" deadline is interfering with the ability of the parties to have meaningful discussions on the issue.

Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara's office is required to file an indictment in the case within 30 days of Khobragade's arrest and the deadline for that is January 13.

However, in a request submitted late yesterday with Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Khobragade's counsel sought postponement of the preliminary hearing date, currently scheduled for January 13 and extension of the indictment deadline by 30 days "to and including February 12, 2014".

"Significant communications have been had between the prosecution and the defense and amongst other government officials and it is our strong view that the pressure of the impending deadline is counterproductive to continued communications," Khobragade's counsel Daniel Arshack said in the request.

He later told PTI that Khobragade, 39, is seeking extension of the indictment deadline, adding that a defendant can seek an extension.

"The deadline is designed to protect defendants from prosecutors who might drag out proceedings...In this case however, an indictment would further polarise the litigants. We would like to avoid that," Arshack said.

The lawyer told the court that he has conferred with the prosecution concerning extending the deadline and has been informed that the prosecution will not seek an extension of the deadline.

"We therefore, wish to inform the court that we waive the 30 day time limit set by the court on December 12, 2013 because we believe that the time limit is interfering with the parties ability to continue to have meaningful discussions," Arshack said in his request to the judge

"...We believe that making such a request under these circumstances constitutes good cause and is in 'the public interest' since it is in the interest of justice, not to mention judicial economy, to promote and encourage the very sort of discussions which have taken place to date," he said.

Khobragade, the deputy Counsel General at the Indian Consulate here was arrested on December 12 last year and was presented before the court following her arrest on a criminal complaint. The case was adjourned to January 13, 2014 for indictment or preliminary hearing.

Sources had last week said the US is proceeding with the prosecution of Khobragade and has no intention to withdraw the case of visa fraud against her. 

Khobragade's arrest and the treatment meted out to her has snowballed into a diplomatic row between India and the US.

India has stressed that Khobaragade had full diplomatic immunity and the US authorities should not have arrested or charged her.

Khobragade has been transferred from the Indian Consulate to India's Permanent mission to the UN and the State Department is currently reviewing her UN accreditation application.

She was arrested on charges of one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements to the US Department of State in support of a visa application for a domestic worker Sangeeta Richard employed by her as a babysitter and housekeeper at her home in New York.

Meanwhile, eminent Indian-American lawyer Ravi Batra said the State Department should resolve the row urgently and "repair" a necessary bilateral relationship.

"Time to heal and resolve the 'Devyani' self-inflicted wound is now, and we must restore warmth and dignity to our bilateral relationship with India as soon as possible - world peace and security depend upon it as well as and it protects American interests," Batra told PTI.

He said a fake video that purportedly shows the CCTV footage of Khobragade's strip search is "highly provocative" and is "maliciously" circulating on the web to falsely damage American law enforcement.

"Who created the fake video, and if any nation was involved, will be quite telling," Batra added.

With the January 13 deadline for indictment in the case approaching, Batra said the options before the State Department include accepting Khobragade's UN transfer and giving her full immunity before any criminal charges are levied against her, accepting her UN transfer after she is criminally charged or refuse to accept her transfer to the UN due to the pending criminal charges.

"The choice will either repair or damage this bilateral relationship," he said adding that it is important to identify the official in Washington who "recklessly abused" his discretion and approved criminal prosecution against the Indian diplomat.

In the process, the official "unilaterally" turned a "love-fest" between the US and India into a "bad dream", the lawyer said.


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