In the case of the dramatic arrest and release of a senior Indian diplomat in New York on Thursday it has emerged that the foreign service officer, Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade (39) had to pay a $250,000 personal recognisance bond, and has surrendered all travel documents and submitted to numerous restrictions on travel, contact with involved parties and employment change declarations.
The U.S. Department of Justice has pressed criminal charges against Ms. Khobragade specifically alleging that she caused “materially false and fraudulent documents” to be presented to authorities in her bid to get an Indian national, Sangeeta Richard, employed as a babysitter and housekeeper at her residence in Manhattan in 2012.
Information provided to The Hindu suggested that the bond for Ms. Khobragade’s release had to be co-signed by three people and she has been banned from making any new applications to travel. The U.S. government is likely to be holding her diplomatic passport.
Further, it was revealed, until the trial Ms. Khobragade will be required to declare to U.S. authorities any plans for inter-state travel within the U.S.
She is also banned from sponsoring any further visas, cannot have any contact, “directly or indirectly through others,” with Ms. Richard her immediate family, and must notify the U.S. Department of Justice of any change in her employment.
While the State Department confirmed that Ms. Khobragade had been arrested, spokesperson Pooja Jhunjunwala said in an email 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.”
While some reports said that handcuffs had been used in the arrest Ms. Khobragade’s father Uttam, who spoke to The Hindu via telephone from Mumbai, was unable to confirm whether that was the case, or whether she had spent any time in a holding cell.
He however said that Ms. Richard indicated that she wanted Ms. Khobragade’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.
According to the DOJ’s complaint, between November 2012 through approximately June 2013 Ms. Richard worked in the residence of Ms. Khobragade, after allegedly being promised $4,500 per month in U.S. dollars, an amount mentioned within the A-3 visa application that Ms. Khobragade submitted electronically to the State Department.
However as it turned out, the complaint alleges, Ms.. Khobragade did not pay Ms. Richard the “prevailing or minimum wage,” which was an hourly rate of $9.75. Instead Ms. Khobragade reportedly got Ms. Richard to sign a second employment contract under which Ms. Richard agreed that she would be paid no more than 30,000 Indian rupees (INR) per month, which is $3.31 per hour, significantly lower than the $7.25 minimum wage in New York State.
Uttam Khobragade noted 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 in India and she 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.
The DOJ however pressed forward with charging 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.
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.