A bureaucrat of the Indian Foreign Service, Devyani Khobragade, was arrested by US diplomatic security and DNA swabbed and strip and cavity searched by US Marshals in Manhattan, New York for allegedly committing visa fraud by underpaying her maid Sangeeta Richard. US Attorney Preet Bharara intends to charge Ms Khobragade with committing visa fraud and violating US minimum wage laws by underpaying Ms Richard. If both counts are proven Ms Khobragade can be incarcerated for a total of maximum 15 years.
Ms Richard went missing from Ms Khobragade’s home in June 2013. She subsequently met Ms Khobragade in July at her immigration attorney’s office to seek $10,000, convert her Indian diplomatic passport to a regular Indian passport, and obtain a regular US visa that will allow her to immigrate to the United States. If her demands are not met she threatened to complain about Ms Khobragade to US authorities for visa fraud and not meeting US minimum wage laws. Ms Khobragade was willing to pay $10,000 but refused to meet the other demands. An extortion case was filed against Ms Richard in India resulting in an order for her arrest and return to India with the government of India seeking US help in finding the missing Ms Richard. India revoked Ms Richard’s diplomatic passport because she is no longer in the employ of Ms Khobragade.
Ms Khobragade’s arrest, her discourteous treatment by US Marshals and subsequent release on a $250,000 bond after giving up her passport and pleading not guilty to charges of visa fraud and making false statements about how much she paid Ms Richard has caused diplomatic tensions between India and US. Because as a consular officer Ms Khobragade is entitled to limited consular immunity governed by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR) she has been transferred by the Indian government to India’s permanent mission at the United Nations which gives her full diplomatic immunity. Still, US has violated both the letter and spirit of VCCR in its treatment of Ms Khobragade.
Ms Khobragade, to start it all, had rendered herself susceptible to extortion by Ms Richard when she asked Ms Richard to agree to two contracts – one to obtain the visa and the other for use. She must pay Ms Richard for the period between November 2012 and June 2013 per the employment contract which was used to obtain Ms Richard a US visa. Ms Richard must be returned to India and tried for extortion for demanding a regular Indian passport and a non-diplomatic US visa to help her immigrate to US in exchange for not complaining about Ms Khobragade.
If, as media reports suggest, as Ms Khobragade has full diplomatic immunity because of an earlier UN accreditation which is valid until December 31, 2013 (she has been accredited again after her recent transfer to India’s permanent mission to the UN) and because Ms Richard’s visa application, which was incorrectly filled out, was misinterpreted by US Diplomatic Security (it appears Ms Khobragade has not underpaid Ms Richard), US is liable to pay damages to Ms Khobragade for her arrest.
Commonsense and maturity must prevail in the matter if US and India are to move on to better things in their bilateral relationship.