Although the Indian perspective on events leading to the December 12 arrest of Devyani Khobragade, Deputy Consul General in New York, asserts that multiple attempts to communicate details of the case against her domestic employee in the Delhi High Court were met with silence, the US State Department on Thursday cast doubt upon that suggestion.
In a briefing, spokesperson Marie Harf also appeared to water down suggestions in Indian media that the State Department may consider dropping the charges against Ms. Khobragade and was trying to put “distance” between itself and the strong remarks of Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara, who on Wednesday evening focused the spotlight on the allegations of visa fraud.
In reference to reports that US Under Secretary Wendy Sherman in a conversation with Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh had sought to downplay the link between the State Department and the actions of Mr. Bharara’s office, Ms. Harf said, “The gentleman [Mr. Bharara]… also said some very positive things about working with the State Department and what we had done. So we obviously take law enforcement matters very seriously.”
Leaving no doubt on the Department’s position on the felony charges brought against Ms. Khobragade, Ms. Harf added, “We’re not in any way walking back from those … charges,” especially as the Department “very clearly… said every year in diplomatic notes to every country that has diplomats here throughout the world that there are obligations they have for their staffs when they bring them to the US.”
In this context the US also appeared to be of the view that the security of the family of Ms. Richard may have been jeopardised at certain points in time, prompting their “evacuation” from India to the US.
Ms. Harf said that in this light the US Government has “taken steps to reunite the alleged victim with her family,” after Washington became “aware of the existence of allegations that the family was intimidated in India.”
Ms. Richard’s father-in-law was or currently is employed in a personal capacity by a US diplomat at the New Delhi embassy but he is not as a US Government employee, she added.
On the question of communicating with the Indian embassy here and the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi, Ms. Harf said that it was “highly inaccurate” to say that the US ignored any Government of India communiqués on this issue.
She added that some of these communications were private diplomatic conversations or law enforcement sensitive, but that it was “a two-way conversation.”
However, this raises questions about the impression within Indian official circles that repeated attempts to register a complaint in New York, or pass on information on the injunction and arrest warrant issued against domestic worker Sangeeta Richard in India through the State Department’s South and Central Asia Bureau or the Office of Foreign Mission “did not get a response,” including messages sent to US authorities on June 24, June 25, July 2, July 5, July 30, October 8 and December 6.
Yet, Ms. Harf was firm that throughout the summer the US had numerous “extensive conversations” with the Government of India on the Khobragade case in Washington, New York, and New Delhi, in particular exhorting the Indian government to revert with a response on the allegations of underpayment of contractual wages made by Ms. Richard. In turn, Ms. Harf said that the State Department’s query in this regard along with its request to make Ms. Khobragade “available to discuss” the allegations against her were not answered by the Indian side.
According to Indian officials, the sole communication sent by the US was a letter from the State Department to the Indian Ambassador on September 4, which did draw attention to the allegations of underpayment made by Ms. Richard, but apparently “did not warn” that criminal charges were impending.