External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Thursday refused to comment on U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara’s statement defending the arrest and strip-search of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade.
However, Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin provided a detailed rebuttal. There were no courtesies in the treatment meted out to the diplomat, “under the normal definition of that word in the English language” and Mr. Bharara’s remarks about equality before the law of both the rich and the poor were not conducive to resolving “inaccuracies”. It is also not a feature of the law that is exclusive to the office of the Manhattan U.S. Attorney, said Mr. Akbaruddin.
Mr. Akbaruddin also took on the U.S. attorney for admitting the maid’s family was evacuated from India even though legal processes were under way in New Delhi. On the contrary, suggested Mr. Akbaruddin, when there is a prior legal process already under way in India, Mr. Bharara should have enabled justice to take its course in India.
The travails of Ms. Khobragade began a few days after the Indian maid Ms. Richard sought her permission to take up a job outside. They continued with New York police taking no action against the maid even though complaints about extortion and theft were filed against her.
On the contrary, the Indian diplomat was arrested, her passport has been confiscated and she has been told not to leave the country. The next hearing is three weeks away and there are prospects of a later date being allocated.
According to government sources, when Ms. Richard was found to have absconded on June 23, the diplomat informed the Office of Foreign Missions (OFM) in New York and on its advice, tried to lodge a missing person report but was told the report could only be lodged by her family member. When approached in India, Ms. Richard’s husband refused. After much persuasion, the police filed a missing person’s report.
A few days later, a woman claiming to be a lawyer demanded that Ms. Richard’s visa status be converted to ordinary and she be compensated for extra work. India sought police assistance in finding out that the caller’s identity but no action was taken. An extortion complaint followed by a theft compliant but there was no action.
Ms. Khobragade finally met the maid who sought $10,000 and an ordinary Indian passport but was told she could not remain in the U.S. and issues over working hours could be settled before her return to India. The maid refused.
About a week earlier, the diplomat filed a complaint with Delhi Police and asked the police to recover the maid’s official passport. The Indian diplomat also filed an anticipatory anti-suit injunction to avoid litigation in the U.S. A Delhi court then issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against Ms. Richard.
In between, the Ministry of External Affairs requested the assistance of the U.S. Embassy and the State Department in Washington but there was no feedback.
However, the State Department issued a “one-sided letter” claiming the maid’s allegations were of “considerable concern” and asked the Embassy to investigate them. The reply highlighted the fact that Ms. Richard wanted a monetary settlement and a U.S. visa, “thereby seeking to subvert both Indian and U.S. laws”, claimed government sources.
On December 6, the arrest warrant issued by the Delhi Metropolitan court was forwarded to the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy but no action was taken.