Strategic allies spar over maid

Washington :  The United States has informed senior Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, who has returned to New Delhi, and the Indian authorities that she no longer enjoys immunity and that an arrest warrant might be issued against her.

“Prior to her (Devyani Khobragade) departure, it was conveyed to her and to the government of India that she is not permitted to return to the United States, except to submit to the jurisdiction of the court.

Strategic allies spar over maid

“Her name would be placed in visa and immigration lookout systems to prevent the routine issuance of any future visa and upon her departure a warrant may be issued for her arrest”, the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters.

 Khobragade’s departure from the US, she said, does not change the charges against her.

Earlier in the day, Manhattan’s top prosecutor Preet Bharara submitted to a federal court two employment contracts signed between Khobragade and her domestic help Sangeeta Richard, showing different salaries to be paid to Richard, as a proof that the diplomat had made false statements to US authorities to obtain a visa for her.

The contract states that under the employment conditions that will apply to Khobragade and Richard “during the period of employment in the US,” Richard will be paid USD 9.75 per hour as per “wages at the prevailing or minimum wage rate as required by law, whichever is greater”. It said she would work 40 hours per week with an off on Sunday. It also adds that wages to Richard should be paid “biweekly by electronic fund transfer” to her bank account.

Neither Khobragade nor Richard’s “family members will have access to the employee’s bank account,” it added.

Another document submitted by Bharara is an “India non-judicial e-stamp,” which is a separate employment contract dated November 21, 2012, between Khobragade and Richard. In this it is stated that Richard will be paid “an expected salary of Rs 25,000 per month with an additional Rs 5,000 for overtime — that is work on Sunday, after hours and for parties.” It goes on to say that the “maximum” salary per month, including overtime allowance, “will not exceed” Rs 30,000 per month.

It is these two employment contracts that are at the crux of the criminal charges that Bharara has brought against Khobragade. The indictment said that Khobragade’s “decision to manufacture a fraudulent employment agreement” showing the USD 9.75 hourly wage and which appear to be complying with the requirements of US law “demonstrated clearly” Khobragade’s knowledge of the applicable legal requirements.

However, she never intended to pay Richard the USD 9.75 hourly wage and so made a separate contract with her which said that Richard will be paid Rs 30,000 a month.

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

The indictment added that in the second contract that Khobragade signed with Richard, she “specifically deleted” a provision acknowledging that Khobragade “agrees to abide by federal, state and local laws in the US.”

‘‘This second agreement, with the actual terms of employment, was never submitted to US authorities,” the indictment said, adding that Khobargade told Richard to “lie and not say anything” about the Rs 30,000 salary per month.

The indictment also said Richard was made to work about “94-109 hours per week.”

“The victim was routinely called upon at all hours to perform her duties,” working for the initial first two months for seven days a week.

“Khobragade told the victim that she would not have any days off because the victim was paid Rs 30,000 per month, which covered overtime hours.”

The indictment said that Richard had conveyed to Khobragade in June 2013 that “she could no longer work for Khobragade because she was unhappy with her low salary, long hours and harsh work conditions and wanted to go home.”

Lalit K Jha

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