Washington, DC – United States authorities had no option but to remain silent in the investigation into allegations by Sangeeta Richard, an Indian domestic worker involved in the ongoing case which has triggered the US-India confrontation over the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, the Deputy Consul General of India in New York, according to a senior State Department official.
Refuting the charges of the Government of India (GOI) and its embassy in Washington, DC that the US State Department did not reply to its repeated communications since summer of this year, the senior State Department official said that they were constrained from publicly or even privately having conversations with other governments “because of law enforcement sensitive material.”
The official disclosed that the attorney for Richard approached US authorities as early as July 9 and an investigation was begun immediately, thus constraining the officials from divulging any information.
The Indian Embassy in a statement this week released from Washington, DC listed a timeline of communications it had sent to the State Department and alleged, “No response was received from the US side for any of these communications.”
Asked to comment on the Indian allegations, Marie Harf, the State Department Deputy Spokesperson told journalists, “It’s highly inaccurate to say that we ignored any Government of India communiques on this issue, period. She added, “Some of these communications are private diplomatic conversations or law enforcement sensitive.”
Acknowledging that US “law enforcement authorities and the Government of India have some different interpretations of the issues and allegations at play throughout this entire scenario,” Harf stressed, “We have engaged in extensive conversations with the Government of India about this issue in Washington, in New York, in New Delhi, going back to the summer.”
Harf stated that it was the the GOI which had not responded, adding, “We’ve also requested the Government of India to provide us with the results of its own inquiry into the allegations made by Dr. Khobragade’s domestic worker and to make her available to discuss them, I don’t think either of which was done.”
Harf concluded, “So we’ve had a lot of conversations back and forth, we’re continuing to now, and I think it’s fair to say that we’re still looking into exactly what all of those conversations look like. But we definitely responded. I certainly – it’s inaccurate to say that we did not.”
The senior State Department official also reiterated the earlier comments from Harf saying that the department takes the obligations and duties of the incoming international diplomats very seriously and communicates this position to all embassies.
Harf, during a briefing this week, said, “We very clearly have said every year in diplomatic notes to every country that has diplomats here throughout the world that there are obligations they have for their staffs when they bring them to the United States. We make those obligations very clear and we take any allegations that they haven’t done so very seriously.”
An email to the Indian Embassy requesting clarification whether this information had been communicated to its diplomats on a regular basis, including Khobragade, received no response.
Regarding allegations of mistreatment of domestic workers brought from abroad, Harf said, “We certainly take these types of allegations very seriously.”
US prosecuting attorney Preet Bharara released a statement on Wednesday, December 18, due to “much misinformation and factual inaccuracy in the reporting on the charges against Devyani Khobragade.” The complaint shows that “she clearly tried to evade US law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers.” Bharara continued that Khobragade did not merely seek to evade the law, but that “she caused the victim and her spouse to attest to false documents and be a part of her scheme to lie to US government officials.”
Bharara also clarified, “Khobragade was accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens, are accorded.” She was not handcuffed, he said, and was allowed to make numerous calls and contact whomever she needed. Bharara did confirm that while “she was fully searched by a female Deputy Marshal — in a private setting,” that 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.”
In a statement released by the North American Punjabi Association (NAPA), executive director Satnam Singh Chahal said they are concerned Richard may not receive justice. Chahal added while they condemned the way Khobragade had been arrested, it is “very unfortunate that US India diplomatic relations have been sabotaged by the Indian Foreign Services, in order to protect one of their Consul.”
Khobragade, who pleaded not guilty to the charges of underpaying Richard and committing visa fraud to get her into the US, was released on $250,000 bail and was required to surrender her passport. She faces a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted on both counts.