Complaint alleges Devyani Khobragade did not pay Sangeeta Richard the “prevailing wage” of $9.75 an hour
The State Department confirmed but declined to make any other comments on the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, Deputy Consul at the Indian Consulate General in New York.
Spokesperson Pooja Jhunjunwala said in an e-mail that the Department had “no further comment on the matter, because the case is pending in the courts.”
The Indian Embassy also confirmed the arrest on Thursday, adding that Ms. Khobragade was “taken into custody by law enforcement authorities… while she was dropping her daughter at school,” but was “later released that same evening.”
Some reports said handcuffs had been used in the arrest, but the diplomat’s father Uttam Khobragade, who spoke to The Hindu from Mumbai, was unable to confirm this, or if she had spent any time in a holding cell.
According to the Department of Justice’s complaint, between November 2012 through approximately June 2013 when the domestic assistant, Sangeeta Richard, worked at Ms. Khobragade’s home, she was paid Rs. 30,000 per month though the amount mentioned in the A-3 visa form that Ms. Khobragade submitted electronically to the State Department was $4,500.
The complaint alleges that Ms. Khobragade did not pay Ms. Richard the “prevailing or minimum wage,” which was an hourly rate of $9.75. Instead Ms. Khobragade got Ms. Richard to sign another employment contract under which she agreed to be paid the lower amount that worked out to $3.31 per hour.
Ms. Khobragade’s father said Ms. Richard had indicated that she wanted help in getting permanent legal status in the U.S. and did not respond to the family’s requests to tell them how much they owed her.
Ms. Richard, he said, had never complained about wage shortfalls during her employment, and had been satisfied with the arrangement under which her family was paid in India and she was given around $500 per month in New York.
When she disappeared Ms. Richard took her passport, and, Mr. Khobragade alleged, she stole $200 and Ms. Khobragade’s husband’s mobile phone. When she called a month later she allegedly demanded $10,000.
The DOJ has charged Ms. Khobragade with one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements, which carry maximum sentences of ten years and five years in prison, respectively. The next preliminary hearing date is January 13, 2014, according to officials here.
Announcing the arrest and charges Indian-American U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, “Foreign nationals brought to the U.S. to serve as domestic workers are entitled to the same protections against exploitation as those afforded to U.S. citizens.” He added that the false statements and fraud alleged to have occurred here were “designed to circumvent those protections so that a visa would issue for a domestic worker who was promised far less than a fair wage. This type of fraud on the U.S. and exploitation of an individual will not be tolerated.”
According to the Indian Embassy, the Delhi High Court had issued an interim injunction in September to restrain Ms. Richards from instituting any actions or proceedings against Ms. Khobragade outside India on the terms or conditions of her employment.
Although the embassy said that the Indian government had requested U.S. authorities to “locate Ms. Richard and facilitate the service of an arrest warrant issued by the Metropolitan Magistrate of the South District Court in New Delhi,” there did not appear to be any indications that law enforcement here were acting upon this advice.
This is the second instance of a senior Indian foreign service officer in New York facing charges linked to human trafficking.
In 2012 a New York City Magistrate Judge ordered that Neena Malhotra, a diplomat at the Consulate, and her husband Jogesh be required to pay out nearly $1.5 million for forcing an under-aged Indian girl, Shanti Gurung, to work without pay and meting out “barbaric treatment” to her in their plush East 43rd Street Manhattan apartment.