NEW YORK - In a major embarrassment for India, the country’s Deputy Consul General in New York was arrested by US law-enforcement authorities on charges of visa fraud on Thursday but was released on a $250,000-bond after she pleaded not guilty in a court.
Devyani Khobragade, 39, was taken into custody after Manhattan’s US Attorney Preet Bharara, an Indian-American, announced charges of visa fraud against her and alleged that she had made false statements in connection with the visa application of an Indian national employed by her as a babysitter and housekeeper.
Ms Khobragade deals with political, economic, commercial and women’s affairs at the Indian Consulate.
She was taken into custody and produced before US Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman late in the afternoon for an arraignment hearing, according to reports.
The judge read out Khobragade her rights and the charges against her. Khobragade did not speak during the hearing except to state that she agrees with the terms and conditions of the bail. The next hearing has been set for January 13th.
Khobragade joined the Consulate last year and has previously been posted in Germany, Italy and Pakistan.
The diplomat was released on a USD250,000 bond and submitted her diplomatic passport in court. Freeman ordered that Khobragade cannot leave the country but can travel within the US only if she gives advance notification of her travels. “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,” Manhattan US Attorney Bharara said in a statement.
Khobragade was charged with one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements, which carry maximum sentence of 10 years and five years in prison, respectively.
AFP adds: Back in New Delhi, India summoned Friday the US ambassador to protest against the detention of one of its senior diplomats in New York, the foreign ministry said.
“She (Ambassador Nancy Powell) has already been summoned by the Foreign Secretary (Sujatha Singh),” ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told AFP.
The move comes after the Indian embassy in Washington said its deputy consul general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, was taken into custody on Thursday while she was dropping her daughter off at school.
Indian media reports said that Khobragade was arrested and handcuffed in public for allegedly lying on the US visa application for an Indian national who worked for her as a domestic help.
“We are shocked and appalled at the way she had been humiliated and this will be taken up forcefully with the US,” Akbaruddin told reporters.
“This kind of behaviour against the Indian diplomat, a young woman with two children is entirely unacceptable.
“We will take this up strongly. The legal aspect of it is separate and there is no justification for what has happened to the young woman.”
The embassy in Washington said the detention was based on “allegations raised by the officer’s former India-based domestic assistant”.
The domestic worker had ‘absconded’ from her employer in June and was already the subject of an injunction issued by the High Court in Delhi, the embassy added in a statement on its website.