U.S. prosecutor Preet Bharara has told a judge in New York that his office is opposed to the one-month extension of the deadline for charging Devyani Khobragade in a visa fraud case as sought by her, saying plea discussions can continue even after she is charged.
Ms. Khobragade’s lawyer Daniel Arshack has submitted a request with Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking postponement of the preliminary hearing date, currently scheduled for January 13, 2014 and extension of the indictment deadline by 30 days “to and including February 12, 2014”.
Responding to Mr. Arshack’s request, Mr. Bharara wrote to the judge that the government is not seeking an extension of the deadline for indictment.
He said the one-month adjournment of the January 13, 2014 preliminary hearing date has been sought in order to facilitate the plea discussions that have been ongoing between his office and Ms. Khobragade.
“This office remains receptive to continuing the plea discussions that have taken place over the past several weeks. We have participated in hours of discussion in the hope of negotiating a plea that could be entered in Court before January 13,” Mr. Bharara said.
“Indeed, as recently as Saturday, January 5, the government outlined reasonable parameters for a plea that could resolve the case, to which the defendant has not responded,” he said.
Mr. Bharara pointed out that the plea discussions to resolve the issue can continue even after the indictment has been filed.
He said while his office remains open to continuing the plea discussions as the case proceeds, “the discussions are simply not at a stage that merits a continuance of the preliminary hearing”.
“Moreover, the plea discussions can continue following indictment of the case. Accordingly, the Government is not seeking an extension of the deadline for indictment and therefore there is no motion for the Court to decide,” Mr. Bharara said.
“At any rate, as the court knows, the timing under which the government seeks an indictment is in the discretion of the government, and the defendant cannot alter that,” he said.
In a request submitted late Monday with Judge Netburn, Mr. Arshack said, “Significant communications have been had between the prosecution and the defence and amongst other government officials and it is our strong view that the pressure of the impending deadline is counterproductive to continued communications.”
He later told PTI that Ms. 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,” Mr. 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,” Mr. 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.
Sources had last week said the U.S. is proceeding with the prosecution of Ms. Khobragade and has no intention to withdraw the case of visa fraud against her.
U.S. hopeful of resolving row
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has expressed hope of arriving at a resolution of the issue, which has resulted in “hiccups” in the India-U.S. bilateral ties.
“Absolutely” the State Department Deputy Spokesperson, Marie Harf, told reporters at her daily news conference on Monday, when asked if the U.S. was hopeful that the issue would be resolved.
This comes in the wake of strong Indian statement to the U.S. that it cannot be “business as usual” between the two sides till the issue is resolved.
Vikram Doraiswami, Joint Secretary (Americas), conveyed this to U.S. Ambassador Nancy Powell when she met him at South Block in New Delhi on Monday.
The U.S. and Indian officials are believed to be working on both the diplomatic and judicial front to arrive at an amicable resolution of the issue, with U.S. officials insisting that law would take its own course.
“As I’ve said, many, many times throughout this whole ordeal, that we don’t want this to define our relationship going forward and don’t think that it will,” Ms. Harf said noting that the U.S. does not want India-U.S. ties to be affected by the arrest of the Indian diplomat in New York last month on visa fraud charges.