Indian diplomat indicted in N.Y., leaves U.S.

6:08 PM, Jan 9, 2014   |    comments
Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general, is accused in New York of not paying her Indian maid the minimum wage. (Photo: Mohammed Jaffer, AP)
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An Indian envoy was indicted Thursday for allegedly lying to get her New York City housekeeper a work visa, but she was granted diplomatic immunity and asked to leave the United States.

Devyani Khobragade, 39, is charged with visa fraud and making false statements. She remains free on bail.

Although the State Department and the federal prosecutor initially announced that she had left the United States, her lawyer reported later that she was still in the country, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office said. Her whereabouts were not disclosed.

The State Department asked Khobragade to leave the United States on Thursday afternoon. The charges will remain active until she can be brought back, either through a waiver of immunity or her voluntary return, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara wrote in a letter to District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin.

The arrest and police treatment of Khobragade has ignited a firestorm in India and strained relations between Washington and New Delhi. On Wednesday, in a diplomatic tit-for-tat, the Indian government ordered American officials to shut down the restaurant, bowling alley and all commercial activities at the U.S. Embassy in the capital.

Khobragade was arrested Dec. 12 outside her daughter's Manhattan school and claimed she was subjected to cavity- and strip-searches. Bharara said at the time that she was never handcuffed and never subjected to a body-cavity search.

He said Khobragade was "fully searched by a female deputy marshal - in a private setting - when she was brought into the U.S. Marshals' custody, but this is standard practice for every defendant, rich or poor, American or not."

Khobragade was freed on $250,000 bail. A preliminary hearing had been scheduled for next Tuesday.

Her lawyer, Daniel Arshack, has argued she should not face any charges and was protected by diplomatic immunity. She was deputy counsel general at the Indian consulate in New York, where she arrived in September 2012. After her arrest, she was transferred to India's mission at the United Nations.

Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid demanded that the charges be dropped, and he accused the housekeeper, Sangeeta Richard, of trying to blackmail Khobragade.

In a statement last month, Bharara, who was born in India, defended the arrest.

"It is alleged not merely that she sought to evade the law, but that she affirmatively created false documents and went ahead with lying to the U.S. government about what she was doing," Bharara said in a statement. "One wonders whether any government would not take action regarding false documents being submitted to it in order to bring immigrants into the country.... And one wonders why there is so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?"

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