In a second case of its type, one ofIndia's senior diplomats in New York was arrested and accused by Manhattan'sIndian American US Attorney Preet Bharara of visa fraud and exploiting herbabysitter and housekeeper.
Devyani Khobragade,39, India's Deputy Consul General in New York, was charged Thursday with onecount of visa fraud and one count of making false statements, which carrymaximum sentences of ten years and five years in prison, respectively.
The Indian Embassy inWashington reacted swiftly and conveyed its "strong concern to the USGovernment over the action taken against Khobragade." It also urged the USside "to resolve the matter with due sensitivity," taking intoaccount a pending court case in India and the diplomatic status of Khobragade.
The diplomat wastaken into custody by law enforcement authorities in New York Thursday whileshe was dropping her daughter at school, the embassy said in a statement.
Later Khobragade, wholooks after political, economic, commercial and women's affairs at theconsulate, pleaded not guilty to the charges in Manhattan Federal Court and wasfreed on $250,000 bail.
Her lawyer, DanielArshack, told a magistrate judge his client enjoys immunity and will challengethe arrest on those grounds. Khobragadehanded over her passport as a condition of bail and agreed to make no contactwith the unnamed housekeeper.
In June 2011, aformer housekeeper had sued India's then Consul General in New York PrabhuDayal accusing him of intimidating her into a year of forced labour. A yearlater he reportedly settled the case on undisclosed terms.
Earlier, Bhararaalleged that the Indian diplomat had caused "materially false andfraudulent statements to be made in support of a visa application for an Indiannational employed as a babysitter and housekeeper at her home in NewYork."
"Foreignnationals brought to the United States to serve as domestic workers areentitled to the same protections against exploitation as those afforded toUnited States citizens," he said.
"The falsestatements and fraud alleged to have occurred here were designed to circumventthose protections so that a visa would issue for a domestic worker who waspromised far less than a fair wage," Bharara said.
"This type offraud on the United States and exploitation of an individual will not betolerated," he said.
But the IndianEmbassy said action was apparently taken against Khobragade on the basis ofallegations raised by the officer's former India-based domestic assistant,Sangeeta Richard, who has been absconding since June this year.
According to theembassy, the Delhi High Court had issued an-interim injunction in September torestrain Richards from instituting any actions or proceedings againstKhobragade outside India on the terms or conditions of her employment.
The US Government hadsubsequently been requested to locate Richard and facilitate the service of anarrest warrant, issued by the Metropolitan Magistrate of the South DistrictCourt in New Delhi under Sections 387, 420 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code,it said.
Bharara, on the otherhand, alleged Khobragade had prepared and electronically submitted anapplication for an A-3 visa for her would be personal employee saying she wouldbe paid a monthly salary of $4,500 per month at an hourly rate of $9.75.
But in fact, thehousekeeper worked for Khobragade from November 2012 through June 2013 for morethan 40 hours per week and was paid less than 30,000 rupees per month, or$573.07 at $3.31 per hour, it said.