Sangeeta Richard, the former domestic staff of New York-based Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade (39), said that she wanted the Deputy Consul General’s help in getting permanent legal status in the U.S. and did not answer the family’s plea to tell them how much they owed her in unpaid wages, Ms. Khobragade’s father said.
Speaking to The Hindu via telephone from Mumbai Uttam Khobragade said that despite his son-in-law asking Ms. Richard about any wage shortfalls “four or five times” in the span of the eight months that she worked for them, she always expressed satisfaction with the arrangement under which her family was paid INR 30,000 per month in India and Ms. Richard was given around $500 per month in New York.
When she disappeared Ms. Richard took her passport, $200 and Ms. Khobragade’s husband’s mobile phone with her, he added, and when she called a month later she allegedly demanded $10,000.
Ms. Khobragade was on Thursday arrested in New York on charges related to visa fraud and human trafficking, specifically that she had caused “materially false and fraudulent documents” to be presented to authorities in her bid to get Ms. Richard, an Indian national, employed as a babysitter and housekeeper at her residence in Manhattan.
Responding to queries on the case the Indian embassy here confirmed that Ms. Khobragade was “taken into custody by law enforcement authorities in New York in the morning of December 12, 2013 while she was dropping her daughter at school,” but was “later released that same evening” on bail.
While some reports said that handcuffs had been used in the arrest Uttam Khobragade was unable to confirm whether that was the case, or whether she had spent any time in a holding cell.
Although diplomats generally enjoy immunity from arrest and prosecution under the Vienna Convention, such immunity has been waived on certain occasions in the past.
Regarding the main allegation of the U.S. Department of Justice, the charge that the wage promised under the contract used to obtain an A-3 “personal employees” visa Ms. Richard was not honoured, Ms. Khobragade was alleged to have told Ms. Richard, “The first employment contract was a formality to get the visa.”
However the second employment contract between the two of them, agreeing a monthly payment of INR 30,000 did not apparently contain any provision about the normal number of working hours per week or month.
Consequently during the term of her employment Ms. Richard was said to have worked “far more than 40 hours per week,” and then was paid even less than the INR 30,000 that had been promised under the second contract.
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.”
The Indian embassy supplied further details on the background of the case noting that 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.
Further the Indian embassy was said to have “immediately conveyed its strong concern to the U.S. Government over the action taken” against Ms. Khobragade and urged the U.S. side to “resolve the matter with due sensitivity… taking into account the diplomatic status of the officer concerned.”
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 underaged Indian girl, Shanti Gurung, to work without pay and meting out “barbaric treatment” to her in their plush East 43rd Street Manhattan apartment.