Arrest warrant issued against Khobragade in US visa fraud case

Devyani Khobragade, who was arrested in New York on December 12, and has since been transferred to the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi, faces arrest if she visits the U.S. where her husband and two children are staying. File photo   | Photo Credit: Saurabh Das

An arrest warrant was on Saturday issued against Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade on visa fraud charges after her fresh indictment by U.S. prosecutors who accused her of "illegally" underpaying and "exploiting" her domestic help.

39-year-old Ms. Khobragade, who was arrested in New York on December 12, and has since been transferred to the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi, faces arrest if she visits the U.S. where her husband and two children are staying.

Following the fresh 21-page indictment, U.S. Attorney in Manhattan Preet Bharara said in a letter to U.S. District Judge William Pauley that an "arrest warrant was also issued today" against the diplomat and that the government "will alert the court immediately upon the defendant’s arrest so that an appearance" before the judge may be scheduled.

The new charges, which came two days after a U.S. court dismissed an earlier indictment on Wednesday, accused her of visa fraud and making false statements about the visa application of her domestic help Sangeeta Richard.

The indictment states that the diplomat "knowingly made" multiple false representations and presented false information to U.S. authorities in order to obtain a visa for a personal domestic worker.

The fresh indictment filed in a court in Manhattan also charges that Ms. Khobragade submitted to the U.S. State Department an employment contract of her domestic worker which she knew contained "materially false and fraudulent statements".

A grand jury had earlier returned a true bill on the two-count criminal indictment of Ms. Khobragade.

The indictment said, "Ms. Khobragade did not want to pay the victim the required wages under U.S. law or provide the victim with other protections against exploitative work conditions mandated by U.S. law."

"Knowing that if the U.S. authorities were told the truth about the actual terms of her employment agreement with the victim, Khobragade would not have been able to obtain a visa for the victim, Khobragade decided to make false statements to the U.S. authorities," it said.

Ms. Khobragade was arrested on visa fraud charges and for making false statements regarding the visa application of her maid.

She was strip-searched and held with criminals, triggering a row between the two countries with India retaliating by downgrading privileges of certain category of U.S. diplomats among other steps.

The diplomat has refuted the charges against her.

The indictment gives details of the employment contract that Khobragade entered into with her domestic help.

It states that the diplomat "illegally underpaid and exploited the victim". It said she kept Ms. Richard’s passport with her and told the maid that it would be returned once her three-year term of employment was completed.

It also states that "escalating efforts" were made by Ms. Khobragade and others "to silence and intimidate the victim and her family and lie to Indian authorities and courts".

Mr. Bharara has submitted as exhibits a copy of the employment contract that Ms. Khobragade entered into with Ms. Richard that states that she will be paid $9.75 per hour salary and would be required to work for 40 hours a week.

Also submitted is a copy of the FIR filed in India in which Ms. Khobragade said she had agreed to pay Ms. Richard Rs. 30000 per month, contrary to what she had told the U.S. authorities.

According to prosecutors, Ms. Khobragade claimed she paid the woman $4,500 a month, but actually paid her around $3 per hour and made her to work for more hours.

The indictment states that Ms. Khobragade knew the actual arrangement between her and Ms. Richard "violated U.S. laws" and so she created a "fraudulent employment contract" and had the "victim execute it".

"Because it was created by Khobragade solely to deceive the US embassy during the victim’s (visa) interview," the employment contract "included false statements" that made it seem as if the diplomat’s arrangement with the "victim would comply with applicable US laws", it said.

The fresh indictment comes after Ms. Khobragade got relief from U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin who in her order on Wednesday dismissed the earlier indictment on grounds of diplomatic immunity and ordered that any open arrest warrants based on the earlier indictment should be vacated.

Judge Scheindlin’s order, however, did not bar federal prosecutors from bringing new charges against the former Deputy Counsel General in a fresh indictment in future.

Mr. Bharara said the new indictment was returned charging Ms. Khobragade in two counts with visa fraud and making false statements ... which as alleged in the indictment, were "undertaken to facilitate her exploitative employment of a household employee who was grossly underpaid and overworked".

He further informed the court that "the government respectfully submits that time is automatically excluded from calculation under the Speedy Trial Act...which provides for the exclusion of any period of delay resulting from the unavailability of the defendant".

In this case, the defendant is unavailable because her "whereabouts are known but (her) presence for trial cannot be obtained by due diligence or (she) resists appearing at or being returned for trial".

Ms. Khobragade’s lawyer Daniel Arshack, who had said he was "heartened" when the previous indictment was dismissed, did not make any comment.

Mr. Bharara's office said it has "no additional statement" on the fresh indictment.

On the charge of making false statements, the indictment alleges that Ms. Khobragade "willfully and knowingly did falsify, conceal and cover up, by trick, scheme and device, material facts and made materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements and representations ...she caused to be submitted to the U.S. State Department an employment contract that she knew to contain materially false and fraudulent statements".

It said that in November 2012, Ms. Khobragade executed a "fraudulent employment agreement" that made it appear as if she had entered into an agreement with Ms. Richard that complied with U.S. labour laws.

The indictment alleges that Ms. Khobragade executed a second agreement with Ms. Richard in which the "true terms" of employment were mentioned that provided for the payment of "legally insufficient wages" of a total of Rs 30,000 ($573) monthly.

"In fact Khobragade specifically deleted a provision acknowledging that she 'agrees to abide by all federal state and local laws in the US', a provision that was mentioned in the fraudulent agreement shown to the US authorities to obtain the visa," the indictment said, adding this second agreement was never submitted to the US authorities and the diplomat "illegally underpaid and exploited the victim".

"Khobragade's decision to manufacture a fraudulent employment agreement that complied with the requirements of US laws demonstrated clearly her knowledge of the applicable legal requirements," the indictment said.

Ms. Richard fled from Ms. Khobragade's Manhattan home in June 2013, after complaining to her several times of the long work hours and "harsh working conditions".

Ms. Khobragade and a relative of hers called Ms. Richard’s husband several times in Delhi "to pressure him to locate and disclose" Richard's location.

Ms. Richard's family was threatened that legal action would be taken against them and they were contacted by law enforcement officials, the indictment said.

At one point Ms. Khobragade also became angry with Ms. Richard when she said she should be paid according to U.S. wages, saying that the agreement signed fir the visa application process was a "only a formality created for the purpose of showing to a US embassy employee".

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Printable version | May 4, 2021 8:22:37 AM |

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