Timeline: Case of Devyani Khobragade, Indian diplomat arrested in New York

NEW YORK Sat Dec 21, 2013 3:59am IST

Demonstrators protest across the street from the Indian Consulate building in New York December 20, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Demonstrators protest across the street from the Indian Consulate building in New York December 20, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, 39, deputy consul general in New York, on charges of visa fraud and lying about payments to her housekeeper, Sangeeta Richard, has sparked outrage in India and protests this week in both countries. The following is a timeline of events emerging in New York:

Fall of 2012 - At Khobragade's home in India, the diplomat meets at least twice with Richard to discuss potential employment as her housekeeper in New York. September 27, 2012: Khobragade electronically files with the U.S. State Department for an A-1 visa, available only to persons traveling on official business for their nation's government.

October 15, 2012 - Khobragade electronically files for Richards with the U.S. State Department for an A-3 visa, which is typically given to personal employees and servants of A-1 visa holders and requires an interview. November 1, 2012 - Richard appears at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi to be interviewed in connection with the visa application, but is told she needs to return at a later date "with the necessary paperwork," according to papers filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. November 11, 2012 - Khobragade and Richard go to Khobragade's residence in India "to obtain an employment contract� to bring to her interview at the U.S. Embassy," court papers said. The contract, dated November 11, 2012, states that Richard "will be paid wages at the prevailing or minimum wage as required by law, whichever is greater. The expected hourly salary in the U.S. would be $9.75," the court documents said.

November 14, 2012 - Khobragade and Richard appear at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and provide the contract which "represented that understood she would make $9.75 per hour working as a domestic helper in the U.S." and would work 40 hours a week in New York, court documents said. November 15, 2012 - Khobragade receives an A-3 visa for Richard.

November 2012 - "Shortly before departing to the airport in India," Khobragade calls Richard to her residence to sign "an enlarged and electronically edited version of the first�contract," court papers said. The second contract is altered to say that Richard would be paid 25,000 rupees a month, with an additional 5,000 rupees a month for overtime, for a maximum monthly salary of that "will not exceed 30,000 rupees," according to court documents. That's about $480 a month, or about $3.31 an hour for a 40-hour week, or less than half the $7.25 legal minimum, according to prosecutors. The so-called second contract makes no mention of maximum or minimum hours per week that Richard will be required to work. November 23, 2012 - Khobragade signs a contract with Richard in New Delhi in which Richard agrees to come to the U.S. as Khobragade's domestic servant. June 22, 2013 - Richard, who is scheduled to return to India, leaves the Khobragade apartment on Manhattan's East 43rd Street, and has not returned since. Devyani Khobragade goes to the New York Police Department's 17th Precinct on East 51st Street, seeking to file a Missing Persons report on Richard, who she claims has disappeared from the home. Police decline to take the report because Khobragade is not a direct relative and Richard is an adult. June 24, 2013 - Khobragade contacts U.S. State Department officials to report Richard missing.

June 25, 2013 - Khobragade sends a letter to 17th Precinct NYPD Deputy Inspector James Sheerin, informing him that her housekeeper has gone missing and again requesting assistance from the NYPD to locate her.

Late June 2013 - Aakash Singh, Khobragade's philosophy professor husband, takes the couple's two children on a vacation to the U.S. Southeast. He returns to New York with the children sometime before July 8, 2013.

July 8, 2013 - Singh arrives at the 17th Precinct, but the New York police and Khobragade's attorney offer different accounts of what happened next.

Police said Singh reported that Richard had stolen property from his home and he asked to file a grand larceny complaint against her, but he could not identify the missing items. An officer sent him home to get a list of the missing items and their monetary value, explaining that grand larceny complaints require itemized documentation of at least $1000 worth of property. Police said Singh never returned and didn't respond to a follow-up call.

Khobragade's attorney Daniel Arshack has challenged this account, saying that Singh did in fact provide police with a list of the items on July 8. Arshack said Singh is not overly familiar with U.S. laws, denies using the term grand larceny and thought he was simply reporting a theft to police. Arshack said when a detective asked him whether he wanted to press charges, Singh became reluctant and decided he would first speak with consular officials and return to the precinct later to complete the complaint process. He concurred with police that Singh left without completing a theft report, and failed to respond to a follow-up attempt by New York police. That same day, Khobragade, accompanied by consular officers, speaks with Richard in Midtown Manhattan at a meeting Richard initiated through Access Immigration, a New York immigration assistance organization. Arshack says this is the last face-to-face meeting between the two women before Khobragade's arrest. During the encounter, Khobragade urges Richard to honor her visa requirement and return to India, while Richard demands cash and new immigration documents, Arshack said. The meeting grows so contentious that Access Immigration officials who are present call New York police to escort Richard out of the room. Access Immigration has declined comment other than to say the group is no longer working on Richard's case. July 2013 - Dana Sussman, staff attorney with Safe Horizon, a group that fights human trafficking, is contacted by an unidentified community organization seeking "immediate services" for Richard, the lawyer told Reuters. She meets with Richard, contacts U.S. State Department officials and soon is speaking to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The Khobragade criminal investigation begins. September 9, 2013 - India's Hon'ble High court of Delhi orders an injunction against Richard, restraining her from initiating legal proceedings against Khobragade.

December 11, 2013 - Preet Bahara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, files a criminal complaint against Khobragade with a federal magistrate court judge on one count of visa fraud and one count of making a false statement. If convicted on both counts, Khobragade faces a maximum of 15 years in prison. December 12, 2013 - Sometime between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. local time, Khobragade is approached by U.S. State Department Diplomatic Security Service agents near her children's school on Manhattan's East Side. "Ms. Khobragade was accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens, are accorded," Bharara said in a statement released late on December 18. "She was not, as has been incorrectly reported, arrested in front of her children. The agents arrested her in the most discreet way possible, and unlike most defendants, she was not then handcuffed or restrained. In fact, the arresting officers did not even seize her phone as they normally would have. Instead, they offered her the opportunity to make numerous calls to arrange personal matters and contact whomever she needed, including allowing her to arrange for child care. This lasted approximately two hours. 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."

After being transported to the U.S. District Court building in downtown Manhattan, Khobragade is turned over to U.S. Marshals Service personnel, and strip-searched and placed in a holding cell in the courthouse.

Bharara, in the December 18 statement, said that Khobragade "was fully searched by a female Deputy Marshal - in a private setting - when she was brought into the U.S. Marshals' custody, 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."

Khobragade is arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman, and released around 4:30 p.m. after posting bail, surrendering her passport and other measures. December 20, 2013: Richard is believed to still be in New York City.

Sources: Indian court order, criminal complaint by U.S. Attorney's office, Bahara's statements from December 12 and 18, Reuters interviews with Khobragade attorney Arshack, Safe Horizon attorney Sussman, interviews with NYPD officials.

(Reporting by Chris Francescani; Editing by Barbara Goldberg)

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Comments (10)
YogaMaster wrote:
“Arshack said Singh is not overly familiar with U.S. laws, denies using the term grand larceny and thought he was simply reporting a theft to police.”

Aakash Singh was born in the United States. His father was a professor at Columbia University. He studied in universities all across Europe.

I am sure Professor Singh has some knowledge what “grand larceny” and “US laws” are. Nice try, Arshack!

Dec 20, 2013 8:15am IST  --  Report as abuse
RagBagg wrote:
The Delhi HC had issued a warrant. Despite knowledge od the warrant, the US “extracted” the liars husband and kids.

Now there will be hell to pay: the HC will call the Consul General, chew him out, and probably create enough hell to force the US Consulate apologize to court.

After this: no US court order will get recognizance in India, just the same way the US has refused to recognize Indian courts.

And Preet “the chamcha” Bharara, will for ever never be able to visit his land of birth: if he does, there will be a warrant waiting for him.

What is a chamcha: google it up!

Dec 21, 2013 5:18pm IST  --  Report as abuse
Genex wrote:
Good Article. Covers a wider perspective and fills in some of the missing details. Based on the stories so far, its clear that the maid came to US with sole intention of staying back in US. This intention is further strengthened by assertion made my maids mother in law said that the maid always wanted to go abroad and work there.

When the diplomat with other consular officers attended a meeting initiated by the maid, the maid demanded from diplomat 10k , change of her passport from official to a local one and help her in immigration. The diplomat refused to do so and told her to go back to India as she had terminated her work contract and offered to give her a free ticket. Now for a second assume, that this was not US but some third world country like Nepal or Bhutan, the maid would have definitely taken the ticket and gone back home. When asked to go back to India maid’s reply was …. Why would I want to leave the US. If I leave now, I will never get an opportunity to come back. She knew this was once in lifetime opportunity to immigrate to US.

One would wonder if the maid was an abuse victim , would she show such a demeanor towards the diplomat so as to be escorted out of the meeting by the cops. More so if she was the victim , she won’t be in a position to demand the money and blackmail the diplomat that do this or I will screw you with the abuse allegations. This a straight case of fraud and extortion by the maid in order to game the system to get visa for herself and her family.

Dec 21, 2013 10:28am IST  --  Report as abuse
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