Charges were dropped against India’s former consul general in New York, Deryani Khobragade, whose arrest and strip search last December sparked a bitter diplomatic dispute between the two countries.
Khobragade was charged with visa fraud and making false statements about a domestic helper that she employed. Prosecutors accused her of forcing Sangeeta Richard, who acted as a housekeeper and nanny for the Khobragade family, to work 100-hour weeks for the equivalent of $1 an hour. Federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour in the U.S.
“The indictment said that Khobragade first made [Richard] sign a contract that stipulated she would be paid around $9.75 an hour. Khobragade told U.S. officials in the visa application that the maid would be paid $4,500 a month,” wrote Voice of America. “[Upon arrival in New York] she was told she needed to sign a second work contract, with a changed maximum salary, including overtime, of [$480] a month.”Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Richard was also denied paid time off for vacations and sick days.
U.S. District Judge Shira Sheindlin in Manhattan ruled that Khobragade was protected under diplomatic immunity when she was indicted on January 9. She fled to India later that day.
News of Khobragade’s “humiliating” arrest and subsequent treatment enraged both ordinary Indians and the government at large. Delhi officials ordered the removal of security barriers near the U.S. embassy and revoked diplomats’ ID cards. Street protests demanded a boycott of American-made goods.
Although the case was dismissed, prosecutors suggested that they would seek a new indictment.
“The district court found that Devyani Khobragade had immunity during a limited period of time between January 8 and January 9, when the current indictment was returned by a grand jury,” Jim Margolin, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara Bharara, told Businesweek. “As the court indicated in its decision and as Khobragade has conceded, there is currently no bar to a new indictment against her for her alleged criminal conduct, and we intend to proceed accordingly.”
The threat of a second round of litigation was not taken lightly by Khobragade’s attorney Daniel Arshack.
“She is heartened that the rule of law prevailed,” Arshack said, “[But new charges] might be viewed as an aggressive act and one that [prosecutors] would be ill-advised to pursue.”
Khobragade has already found herself in hot water back in India after it was revealed that two of her daughters held both American passports and Indian diplomatic passports. Dual citizenship is illegal in India.
“Government sources said getting US passports for her daughters indicated Khobragade kept her options open to benefit from the ‘best of both worlds,’” wrote Indian Express. “Khobragade’s daughters, aged four and seven, [remain] in New York with their father, an American citizen.”
The spouses of diplomats are also expected to obtain Indian citizenship – something that Khobragade’s husband has yet to do.