WASHINGTON: A senior diplomat working with India's New York consulate was arrested on Thursday for alleged visa fraud in hiring a domestic help and giving false information but was released later on a $250,000-bond after she pleaded not guilty in a court.
Devyani Khobragade, an Indian Foreign Service officer serving as deputy consul general and the acting consul general at the Consulate General of India, was arrested soon after she dropped her daughter to school.
The diplomat has been charged with submitting false documents and information while applying for a visa for a "babysitter and housekeeper" she brought from India, according to authorities.
They carry maximum sentences of 10 years and five years in prison, respectively.
"The false statements and fraud alleged to have occurred here were designed to circumvent (usual US) protections so that a visa would issue for a domestic worker who was promised far less than a fair wage. This type of fraud on the United States and exploitation of an individual will not be tolerated," said Preet Bharara, Indian-born US attorney for Southern District of New York.
"Foreign nationals brought to the United States to serve as domestic workers are entitled to the same protections against exploitation as those afforded to United States citizens," he added.
Eminent Indian-American lawyer Ravi Batra said Bharara has "acted, as always, to defend the United States, while acknowledging that Constitutional presumptive innocence belongs to the accused."
"Absent the creation of a new legal category for diplomatic foreign domestic workers, which exempts them from US labor laws, including, wages and hours, American laws must be followed to avoid both criminal and civil liability as well as diaspora and foreign-sovereign embarrassment.
"Foreign nations who pay their workers at or near US labour rates are free from this risk, however of 194 countries, most nations are below US-mandated hours and wage standards, and to this later group's diplomatic corps - they remain at high risk to be in the cross-hairs of illegality and reputation-suicide," Batra said.
This is the third such case of an Indian diplomat being accused by a domestic help of mistreatment in recent years.
Yet the practice of underpaying helps brought from home is rampant among Indian expats – diplomats, world bankers and even private sector executives – in the US.