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Devyani Khobragade re-indicted in US visa fraud case, faces arrest

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New York: Two days after a New York judge dismissed the visa fraud case against Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, a US grand jury on Friday again indicted her and accused her of “illegally” underpaying and “exploiting” her housekeeper Sangeeta Richard.

An arrest warrant has been issued against Khobragade as US prosecutors re-indicted her.

“A grand jury has returned a true bill today on a two-count criminal indictment of Devyani Khobragade, said the office of US prosecutor Preet Bharara in an announcement on Friday.

In a letter to United States District Judge William Pauley, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara informed that Khobragade is “believed” to be in India and the court will be alerted if and when she is arrested, reports PTI.

“An arrest warrant was also issued today. The Government will alert the Court immediately upon the defendant’s arrest so that an appearance before Your Honor may be scheduled. At present, the defendant is believed to be in India,” Bharara said in the letter.

He said the indictment alleges that Khobragade made false statements to US authorities “to facilitate her exploitative employment of a household employee who was grossly underpaid and overworked.”

Bharara said Khobragade is unavailable because her “whereabouts are known but (her) presence for trial cannot be obtained by due diligence or (she) resists appearing at or being returned for trial.”

The new charges accused Khobragade of visa fraud and making false statements about the visa application of her maid Sangeeta Richard.

The 21-page indictment, filed by the office of India-born Bharara, states that the diplomat “knowingly made” multiple false representations and presented false information to US authorities in order to obtain a visa for a personal domestic worker. The fresh indictment filed in a federal court in Manhattan also charges that Khobragade submitted to the US State Department an employment contract of her domestic worker which she knew contained “materially false and fraudulent statements.”

The indictment said that “Khobragade did not want to pay the victim the required wages under US law or provide the victim with other protections against exploitative work conditions mandated by US law”.

“Knowing that if the US authorities were told the truth about the actual terms of her employment agreement with the victim, Khobragade would not have been able to obtain a visa for the victim, Khobragade decided to make false statements to the US authorities,” it said.

Khobragade was arrested on December 12 on visa fraud charges and for making false statements regarding the visa application of Richard.

She was strip-searched and held with criminals, triggering a row between the two countries with India retaliating by downgrading privileges of certain category of US diplomats among other steps.

The diplomat, who was transferred back to India and is now with the Ministry of External Affairs, has refuted the charges against her.

The re-indictment comes a day after 39-year-old Khobragade got relief from District Judge Shira Scheindl who said in her order “it is undisputed” that she acquired full diplomatic immunity at 5:47 pm on January 8 after the US State Department approved her accreditation as a counsellor to India’s mission to the UN.

The ruling had, however, left open the possibility that US prosecutors could bring a new indictment against Khobragade which was swiftly carried out today.

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