Diplomat strip search, arrest: Lawyer says investigator goofed reading forms, leading to charges

Published: December 24, 2013
STRIP SEARCH

This Dec. 8, 2013 photo shows Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general, during the India Studies Stony Brook University fund raiser event at Long Island, New York. AP Photo/Mohammed Jaffer

LARRY NEUMEISTER
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK — A lawyer for an Indian diplomat whose arrest and strip search in New York City drew angry responses from officials in India accused U.S. authorities Tuesday of bungling the investigation.

Attorney Daniel Arshack said the agent who drew up charges against his client made a key error in reading a form submitted on behalf of a domestic worker for Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York. She was arrested two weeks ago and charged with submitting false documents to obtain a work visa for her New York City housekeeper.

Arshack said in an email that the error was in “erroneously and disastrously” mistaking Khobragade’s listed base salary of $4,500 per month for what she intended to pay her housekeeper.

The lawyer said Khobragade’s salary needed to be listed on the form so that U.S. embassy officials in India would know that Khobragade had sufficient income to be able to pay her housekeeper $1,560 per month, or $9.75 per hour for a 40-hour workweek. In court documents, authorities claim she paid her housekeeper about $3.31 per hour.

In an interview, Arshack said it became apparent as he and others closely reviewed the forms Khobragade was required to submit to arrange for the hiring of her housekeeper that the information she had submitted had been misunderstood.

“It’s incredibly unsexy kind of information, but it does go right to the heart of what this is about,” he said.

Prosecutors declined to comment on Arshack’s claims.

Arshack has represented Khobragade since she was arrested Dec. 13, charged with lying on a visa form about how much she paid her housekeeper.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed regret over the case while Indian officials have said they are outraged, particularly at a strip-search of Khobragade that they say was degrading and unnecessary, though U.S. authorities have called it standard procedure.

Khobragade has said she has full diplomatic immunity, though U.S. officials have said her immunity is limited to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions.

She has been transferred to India’s United Nations mission, an assignment that has been processed by the Indian government and the United Nations but awaits U.S. State Department approval. She would have broader immunity in that position.

In an unusual statement last week, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara responded to what he described as misinformation and factual inaccuracy in the case by saying Khobragade was accused of creating false documents and lying to the U.S. government about what she was doing, including hiring a housekeeper who was working far more than the 40 hours per week she was contracted to work.

He also questioned why there was “precious little outrage” about the treatment of the Indian housekeeper and her husband while there was so much about the alleged treatment of Khobragade.

He said his office’s sole motivation was to uphold the law, protect victims and hold lawbreakers accountable, “no matter what their societal status and no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are.”

15:28ET 24-12-13

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