Devyani Khobragade, Sangeeta Richard, Preet Bharara, Daniel Arshack, Dana Sussman-These are some of the names that have been creating waves in the past couple of weeks. This incident happening right now in U.S.A is history repeating itself-incidents of Santosh Bharadwaj vs Prabhu Dayal(2010) and Neena Malhotra vs Shanti Gurung.
This is the case of an Indian Foreign Diplomat being held by the government of the country where she works, without diplomatic immunity or even the slightest regard for human dignity.
On December 11, 2013, Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in the Consulate General of India in New York, was charged by the US state department with wilfully committing visa fraud and perjury Under Title 28, United States Code, Section 1746. The US state department further pushed charges alleging that she had given materially false and inaccurate statements while submitting a visa application for her domestic help Sageeta Richard.
Sangeeta Richard, was the domestic help hired by Devyani Khobragade in the month of November, 2012. Much of her life is unknown other than that she is from Kerala(As per The Indian Express). She is married to Philiip, aged 42, who is a driver at Mozambique Embassy in New Delhi. There have also been reports that Richard’s father-in-law used to work for US Embassy and her mother-in-law has worked for US government personnel.
Let us try to understand what really happened in this incident. This article does not intend to make an inference or judgement and is purely based on research and data collected from various media.
The root of this case can be traced back to the fall of 2012. Devyani Khobragade was in talks with Sangeeta Richard about potential employment. On September 2012, Khobragade filed for an A-1 visa with the US States Department. A-1 visa is available only to those persons travelling on official business on behalf of their nation’s government. Simultaneously, in the month of October 2012, Devyani Khobragade filed for A-3 visa with US Stated Department for Richard. A-3 Visa is given to personal employees and servants of A-1 visa holders and requires an interview.
On November 11th 2012, Khobragade and Richard, as per court reports, came to Khobragade residence in India “to obtain an employment contract to bring to her interview at the US Embassy”. The contract was dated November 11, 2012 and stated that Richard “”will be paid wages at the prevailing or minimum wage as required by law, whichever is greater. The expected hourly salary in the US would be $9.75,” as per court documents. On November 14th 2012, Khobragade and Richard appeared in the US Embassy, New Delhi, and provided the contract which stated “”represented that understood she would make $9.75 per hour working as a domestic helper in the US” and further said that, Richard would work 40 hours a week while employed under Khobragade, as per court papers. On November 15th 2012, Devyani Khobragade receives A-1 visa for Richards.
Before leaving for New York in November 2012, Devyani Khobragade asks Richard to sign an “an enlarged and electronically edited version of the first contract,” court papers said. Further, the second contract is altered which says that Richard would be paid Rs.25,000 per month, with an additional Rs.5,000 for overtime, for maximum monthly salary of that “which will not exceed Rs.30,000 per month”, as per court papers. This is less than half the minimum wage required by the US of $7.50 per hour. As per the new contract, Richards wages were only about $3.30 per hour. On November 23rd 2012, Richard signs the contract with Khobragade agreeing to work in New York as Khobragade’s domestic servant.
Fast forward to year 2013, specifically the month of June(22nd), Richard who is supposed to return to India leaves the Khobragade residence in New York and is never seen again. Devyani Khobragade tries to file a missing person report with the NYPD (17th Precinct on East 51st Street), but NYPD decline to take a report as Khobragade is not a relative and Richard is an adult. On June 24th 2013, Khobragade contacts the US States Department to file a missing persons report. On June 25th 2013,Khobragade sends a letter to NYPD(17th Precinct) Deputy Inspector James Sheerin, informing them of missing housekeeper and requesting their help again to locate her. Two days later, a report was filed with the NYPD.
On July 8th 2013, Aakash Singh, Khobragade’s philosophy professor husband arrives at the 17th precinct. But the New York police and Khobragade’s attorney provide different account of what happened between Aakash Singh and the police at the 17th precinct. **The police say that Singh wanted to file a grand larceny complaint against Richard, as Aakash reported that Richard had stolen property from his home. A grand larceny complaint requires itemised documentation of $1000 or more worth of property. Singh was asked to return home and document the missing items. Police claim that Singh never returned and never responded to any follow up calls.***Khobragade’s attorney Daniel Arshack has challenged this police account stating that Singh did provide a list of missing items to the police on July 8th. Arshack further added that Singh isn’t familiar with the US laws, and hence thought he was just reporting a robbery. Arshack also denied that Singh used the term ‘Grand Larceny’.
On the same day, in Midtown Manhattan, Khobragade accompanied by consular officers met Richard at a meeting intiated by Richard through Access Immigration, a New York Immigration Assistance Organization. Arshack states that this was the last face-to-face meeting between them before Khobragade was arrested. During this encounter, Khobragade urged Richard to return to India, while Richard demanaded for cash and new immigration documents. The meeting heated up so much that Access Immigration officials had to call New York Police to escort Richard out of the meeting room. After this incident, Access Immigration hasn’t made any public comments other than that the group would no longer work on Richard’s case.
In this same month, July 2013, Dan Sussman, an attorney with Safe Horizon, is contacted by an unidentified organization seeking immediate services for Richard, as per the lawyer. Sussman met Richard, contacted the US States Department officials and the Department of Justice(DOJ).
The ‘Devyani Khobragade’ criminal Investigation begins.
September 9th 2013, Supreme Court India orders an injunction against Richard, restraining her from initiating any legal proceedings against Khobragade.
A couple of months later, on December 11th 2013, Preet Bharara, an US attorney for Southern District of New York, files a criminal case against Khobragade on counts of visa fraud and making false statements. This case was filed with the Federal Magistrate Court Judge. If Khobragade is convicted on both the above mentioned counts, she can be imprisoned for up to 15 years.
On December 12th 2013,US State Department Diplomatic Service Agents approach Khobragade near her children’s school in Manhattan’s East Side. After taking her to the US District Court, Khobragade is handed over to the US Marshals Services, where she is stripped and searched and placed in a holding cell. Khobragade is later produced in front of US Magistrate Debra Freeman, where she is released on bail after surrendering her passport and other measures. This incident in the Khobragade case is what brought it to the limelight.
The very basic fact that a foreign diplomat, that too a lady was subjected to strip and search followed by holding her in a prison filled with hardened criminals, has stirred a lot of minds in India. According to many, US have acted on a sub-human basis without regard for diplomatic immunity or human dignity.
In a statement released by Preet Bharara on December 18th 2013, he said that Khobragade was given due respect while arresting her and was not arrested in front of her children as the news is. Furthermore, she was given chances to make phone calls to other diplomats too, Bharara said. As per the strip and search, Bharara states that this is the rule in US and is done for the safety of the person and others around him/her, irrespective of the persons social status and financial stability.
As of December 20th 2013, Richard is still rumoured to be in the US. Furthermore, being a Person of Interest in a high profile case and having cooperated with the governament, she is on an T Non-immigrant Visa . U.S. Congress created T Visas in October 2000 to help law enforcement agencies investigate and prosecute human trafficking, and offer protection to alleged victims. If this case gets closed in next two years, Richard and her family become eligible to obtain a green card which generally takes 20 years for an average outsider to obtain.
There are also rumours that US has transferred all the immediate relatives of Richard to US from India so as to protect them against any harm that may befall upon them. Whatever the reasons, this is one of the high profile cases of 2013.
Various opinions are coming out as to how India will try to bring back Khobragade. Many believe that this incident will lead to a clash of two important econiomies in the world. While many believe that India and US will you some under the table agreement and let go of Khobragade. As of now, we can only wait with bated breath as to how this case will come to an end.
THIS IS A GUEST POST BY OUR INTERN – VASUDEVAN
A 19 year old, pursuing B.Tech in Mechanical Branch at Symbiosis Institute of Technology, Pune. Loves to read, perform magic, listen to music and of course write.
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