Attorney defends Indian diplomat's treatment

2013-12-19 07:23

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New York - The US federal prosecutor who charged an Indian official with alleged visa fraud and paying her housekeeper a fraction of the minimum wage defended his actions on Wednesday amid uproar in India.

Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said "misinformation and factual inaccuracy" had inflamed the reporting of the charges against 39-year-old Devyani Khobragade, arrested and released on bail last week in New York.

A furious diplomatic backlash in India grew after a leaked email from Khobragade claimed said she had been repeatedly stripped and cavity-searched by the US authorities after her detention.

Indian media said the deputy consul general was being moved from the New York mission to the United Nations in a bid to grant her diplomatic immunity and thwart her prosecution.

But Bharara said his sole motivation was to uphold the rule of law, protect victims and hold accountable anyone who breaks the law "no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are".

Not only did Khobragade allegedly try to evade the law, but she created false documents, lied to the US government and allegedly coerced the victim and her spouse into lying, he said.

"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?" Bharara asked.

Bharara, who was born in India, also took issue with the purported complaints from Khobragade that she was unjustly treated.

It is not the first time that charges have been brought over the mistreatment of domestic workers by Indian officials, he said.

"Is it for US prosecutors to look the other way, ignore the law and the civil rights of victims (again, here an Indian national), or is it the responsibility of the diplomats and consular officers and their government to make sure the law is observed?" Bharara asked.

Khobragade is alleged to have paid the victim far below the minimum wage and made her work far more than the statutory 40 hours a week.

As for the circumstances surrounding the arrest itself, Bharara said Khobragade was accorded courtesies not extended to most defendants.

The US attorney insisted that Khobragade was arrested in the "most discreet" way possible, was never handcuffed or restrained and was searched by a female deputy marshal in a "private setting".

She was also allowed to make calls for about two hours from the comfort of officers' heated car to arrange childcare and other personal matters, and was even offered coffee and food.

Bharara said the strip search was standard practice for every defendant, rich or poor to make sure that no prisoner keeps anything that could harm anyone.

He also confirmed that the victim's family had been brought to the United States for their protection after attempts in India were made to silence her and force her to return home.

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