IFS officer paid her help a third of New York wage, MEA summons Powell over her arrest

Devyani khobragadeKhobragade was charged with one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements, which carry maximum sentences of ten years and five years in prison, respectively. (Photo courtesy: Facebook)
Outraged by the arrest and handcuffing of an Indian diplomat in New York in an alleged visa fraud case, New Delhi Friday lodged a strong protest as it summoned the US ambassador to India Nancy Powell and told her the "humiliation" was "absolutely unacceptable".

Some angry MEA officials are even said to have urged the government to consider retaliatory measures over the incident which they said had humiliated and "traumatised" the diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul-general in New York.

"There is no justification to what has happened to a young Indian woman diplomat, who had gone to drop her kids to school. We are shocked and appalled at the humiliation and have taken it up forcefully," MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told reporters while Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh summoned Powell to her South Block office.

"We have told them, in no uncertain terms, this is absolutely unacceptable," Akbaruddin said.

Khobragade was arrested and handcuffed in public on visa fraud charges Thursday before being released on a $250,000 bond after pleading not guilty in court.

The 39-year-old diplomat — the mother of two young girls — was taken into custody on a New York street as she was dropping her daughter to school after the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Indian-born Preet Bharara, announced visa fraud charges against her.

Bharara alleged that Khobragade's housekeeper had been given less than a "fair wage".

"Foreign nationals brought to the US to serve as domestic workers are entitled to the same protections against exploitation as those afforded to US citizens," he said.

"The false statements and fraud alleged to have occurred here were designed to circumvent those protections so that a visa would issue for a domestic worker who was promised far less than a fair wage. This type of fraud on the US and exploitation of an individual will not be tolerated."

An 11-page criminal complaint unsealed in the Manhattan court alleged Khobragade made false statements about the salary and employment terms of her housekeeper from India.

Although the prevailing minimum US hourly wage in the area is $9.75, the housekeeper was paid only about $3.31 an hour, the complaint said. Sources said the housekeeper was paid about Rs 30,000 ($500) per month.

Diplomats and consular officers can get domestic workers on A-3 visas. They have to submit proof that the helper will receive a fair wage, sufficient to support themselves financially and comparable to that offered in the same area in the US.

Bharara alleged that Khobragade made false statements in a visa application for an Indian national employed as a babysitter and housekeeper at her home in New York.

Khobragade was serving as acting head of the Indian consulate at the time of her arrest. She was charged with one count each of visa fraud and making false statements, which carry maximum prison sentences of 10 years and five years, respectively.

The Indian Embassy in Washington said in a statement that it had "immediately conveyed its strong concern" to the US government over the action. "The US side have been urged to resolve the matter with due sensitivity, taking into account...the diplomatic status of the officer concerned," it said.

Khobragade, a 1999-batch IFS officer, told PTI in New York that she could not talk to the media as the matter is "subjudice" but said she is doing fine. Khobragade joined the consulate last year and was previously posted in Germany, Italy and Pakistan.

The court has ordered Khobragade not to leave the US but said she could travel within the country only if she gives advance notice.

The Indian Embassy said it had been informed about Khobragade being taken into custody. It said the action was apparently taken on the basis of allegations made by her former India-based domestic assistant, Sangeeta Richard, who has been absconding since June.

The Delhi High Court issued an interim injunction in September to restrain Richard from instituting any action against Khobragade outside India on the terms or conditions of her employment.

"The US Government had subsequently been requested to locate Richard and facilitate the service of an arrest warrant, issued by the Metropolitan Magistrate of the South District Court in New Delhi under Sections 387, 420 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code," the embassy said.

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