Diplomat made no false statement and paid domestic help what she was entitled to: lawyer

Although India’s former Deputy Consul-General Devyani Khobragade was permitted to leave the United States, the felony charges against her will stand, and if she is sentenced in absentia, she will face arrest if she returns to the U.S. in future under non-immune status.

(A PTI report quoted State Department spokesman Jen Psaki as telling mediapersons that Ms. Devyani no longer enjoyed immunity and she and the Indian government were told that an arrest warrant might be issued against her. “Her name would be placed in visa and immigration lookout systems to prevent the routine issuance of any future visa and upon her departure a warrant may be issued for her arrest,” the spokesman said.)

Ms. Khobragade’s lawyer Daniel Arshack said in a statement emailed to The Hindu that their side was pleased that Washington “did the right thing today by recognising the diplomatic status to which Dr. Khobragade has always been entitled.”

Referring to the confusion that appeared to prevail late on Thursday over the whereabouts of Ms. Khobragade, Mr. Arshack said the prosecutor’s office “well knows” that she was in the country “when Preet Bharara falsely claimed otherwise.”

Mr. Arshack asked: “Why would they make that up? Where is the apology?”

He also noted that Sangeeta Richard, domestic worker who alleged that Ms. Khobragade underpaid her in violation of a contract that Ms. Khobragade signed to obtain an A-3 visa for Ms. Richard, and her family “now enjoy permanent residency in the U.S. … as a result of the false claims and shoddy investigation.”

In the burgeoning war of words between the two sides, Mr. Arshack noted that Mr. Bharara’s false statement that Ms. Khobragade had left the U.S. was “emblematic of the series of blunders which has contributed to the false charges brought against her.”

However, the U.S. Attorney’s office earlier clarified that they were advised by the State Department that, pursuant to a departure request, Ms. Khobragade was scheduled to have left the U.S. on Thursday afternoon.

Though they concluded on this basis that Ms. Khobragade “had left the country,” they acknowledged her presence in the U.S. after Mr. Arshack’s office informed them that she was still in Manhattan with her children.

Regarding the indictment, Mr. Arshack reaffirmed his belief that Ms. Khobragade “did not make any false statement and she paid her domestic worker what she was entitled to be paid.”

Yet the indictment against Ms. Khobragade noted that she had knowingly created a “Fake Employment Contract” in addition to the one that determined the actual level of pay to Ms. Richard, said to be Rs. 30,000 a month, well below the equivalent of what was promised to her in line with U.S. minimum wage law, $4,500 a month.

The indictment also said that Ms. Khobragade “removed the provision that stated ‘The Employer agrees to abide by all Federal, state and local laws’…, removed the provision that stated the normal number of work hours per week shall be 40 hours,” and also contravened U.S. laws by taking possession of Ms. Richard’s passport and not returning it.

The indictment observed that once Ms. Richard entered the U.S. under Ms. Khobragade’s employment, she was compelled to work from 6.30 a.m. to midnight on occasion, for six days per week, and for four hours additionally on Sundays.

Further, Ms. Khobragade told Ms. Richard that the fake contract was just a formality, the indictment said, and “coached her to lie” during visa interview.

Mr. Arshack, however, dismissed the indictment as “meaningless based as it is on a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts and documents,” and said that Ms. Khobragade’s right to travel had been recognised by the court and she was “pleased to be returning to her country, her head is held high.”

He also hinted that defence would argue strongly that Ms. Khobragade had “done no wrong and she looks forward to assuring that the truth is known,” including providing evidence of the prosecution’s “blunders.”