By Arun Kumar
Washington: Manhattan’s high profile India-born US attorney Preet Bhrara, also known as the “Sherriff of Wall Street”, has defended his department’s actions against an Indian diplomat sparking a diplomatic row between India and the US, insisting she was not handcuffed and was given due courtesies.
He also said the domstic help, Sangeeta Richard’s family was “evacuated” from India to protect the “victim” as there were attempts to silence her and compel her to return to India.
Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, who was strip-searched following her arrest on charges of visa fraud and underpaying his maid last week was accorded courtesies most other defendants wouldn’t get, he said in a over 1,000 word long statement. Bharara claimed that US State Department agents arrested her discreetly last week and she wasn’t handcuffed or restrained.
But he confirmed that Khobragade was “fully searched” by a female deputy marshal in private as per “standard practice” for “every defendant, rich or poor, American or not.”
Otherwise, she was treated very well and was even given coffee and allowed to make phone calls in a car for two hours to arrange for child care.
“Because it was cold outside, the agents let her make those calls from their car and even brought her coffee and offered to get her food,” Bharara said.
“It is true that she was fully searched by a female deputy marshal — in a private setting — when she was brought into the US Marshals’ custody,” he said.
“But this is standard practice for every defendant, rich or poor, American or not, in order to make sure that no prisoner keeps anything on his person that could harm anyone, including himself. This is in the interests of everyone’s safety,” Bharara added.
Expressing dismay over the focus on the treatment of the diplomat rather than on the alleged victim, Bharara asked: “Is it for US prosecutors to look the other way, ignore the law and the civil rights of victims … or is it the responsibility of the diplomats and consular officers and their government to make sure the law is observed?”
Bharara also confirmed that the family of Khobragade’s domestic help has been brought to the US as a “legal process was started in India against the victim, attempting to silence her, and attempts were made to compel her to return to India.” He said, it was necessary to evacuate the victim’s family from India as part of efforts “to make sure that victims, witnesses and their families are safe and secure while cases are pending.”
Bharara said his office’s “sole motivation in this case, as in all cases, is to uphold the rule of law, protect victims, and hold accountable anyone who breaks the law – no matter what their societal status and no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are.”
Meanwhile, Dana Sussman, a lawyer for Khobragade’s housekeeper, Sangeeta Richard, said the issue goes beyond a labour dispute.
“Our clients who work as domestic workers are living in the home with their employers,” she told CNN. “So, if they leave, they not only leave their legal status, they leave their only source of income, they leave the only home that they’ve known in a foreign country.”
She said Richard has no passport, is living with friends and has been granted temporary legal status that allows her to remain and work in the US until the matter is resolved.