A war of words appeared to darken the prospects of an early resolution in the case of Devyani Khobragade (39), with the senior Indian diplomat’s lawyer lashing out at the “public characterisation” of secret negotiations between the two sides as a “plea” bargain, a term some may associate with defendants guilty of criminal acts.
Former Deputy Consul General Ms. Khobragade, who was arrested on the streets of New York on December 12 and subject to strip-search by U.S. Marshals, faces criminal charges for alleged visa fraud and for causing false statements to be made on a visa application for her domestic worker, Sangeeta Richard.
Her treatment at the hands of U.S. law enforcement sparked off a diplomatic crisis between New Delhi and Washington, with the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs revoking certain privileges extended to U.S. diplomats there, to enforce reciprocity.
This week the dispute over the felony charges she faces in New York stemmed from the defence team’s request to postpone the January 13 deadline for a preliminary hearing and possible indictment in the case.
Petitioning Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Ms. Khobragade’s lawyer Daniel Arshack requested postponement of this deadline by 30 days to February 12, 2014.
However, responding to the request U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the Indian-origin prosecutor behind the case, said “While we remain open to continuing these plea discussions as the case proceeds, the discussions are simply not at a stage that merits a continuance of the preliminary hearing.”
Mr. Bharara added that the plea discussions could continue following indictment of the case and anyway the government, which claimed full discretion in this matter, was not seeking an extension of the deadline for indictment and “the defendant cannot alter that.”
Speaking to The Hindu, however, Mr. Arshack drew attention to court filings in which he said that as per the “agreed-upon ground rules of the communications,” “no public characterisation of the discussions would be made,” and yet Mr. Bharara’s office had “unilaterally” engaged in a “distressingly calculated” violation of that agreement.
Mr. Arshack noted that both this characterisation of the discussions as a “plea” as well as the looming prospect of an early indictment, could “further polarize the situation.”
Also under dispute appeared to be the question of whether the court could grant the motion to postpone the hearing date based on the defence team’s request, even when the prosecution did not seek such an extension of deadline.
According to Mr. Bharara the prosecution not seeking this motion implied that “there is no motion for the Court to decide,” whereas Mr. Arshack said that this was “remarkably incorrect,” and requested the court to grant the defendant’s application in any case.