Category Archives: India

Photo of the Day: Secretary Kerry in Traditional Scarf Ceremony in India

– Domani Spero

Via state.gov

Secretary Kerry Participates in Traditional Scarf Ceremony Upon Arriving in India For Strategic and Economic Dialogue U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry bows to receive a scarf during a traditional arrival ceremony at his hotel in New Delhi, India, on July 30, 2014, after he traveled for a Strategic Dialogue with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzer. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Participates in Traditional Scarf Ceremony Upon Arriving in India For Strategic and Economic Dialogue
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry bows to receive a scarf during a traditional arrival ceremony at his hotel in New Delhi, India, on July 30, 2014, after he traveled for a Strategic Dialogue with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzer. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry is in New Delhi for the 5th U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue,and is accompanied by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. Other members of the interagency trip include Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman, Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary Francis Taylor, and NASA Associate Administrator Michael O’Brien. The State Department’s does not have a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary for its Bureau of Energy Resources. Ambassador Carlos Pascual who announced he was stepping down as special envoy and coordinator for energy affairs has been succeeded by Amos Hochstein as acting special envoy and coordinator and Mr. Hochstein is accompanying Secretary Kerry to New Delhi.

Additional details of the trip available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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U.S. Congressman Loves Bollywood, Mistakes U.S. Officials for Indians Visiting Congress

– Domani Spero

 

You’ve probably seen this last week, but if you haven’t, here is a newly elected member of the House of Representatives from Florida’s 19th district, who the Miami Herald called, the “latest inductee to the Sunshine State’s face-palming club. USAToday notes that the congressman won a special election last month to replace Trey Radel, who resigned following a cocaine bust.

Via The Cable’s John Hudson:

House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, freshman Rep. Curt Clawson misidentified two senior U.S. government officials as representatives of the Indian government.  The two officials, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, are Americans who hold senior positions at the State Department and Commerce Department, respectively.

 

The hearing was on U.S.-India Relations Under the Modi Government.  Nisha Biswal is the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) at the State Department.   Prior to her appointment as State, she was with USAID. Previously, she also served in the House of Representatives,  as the majority clerk for the House Appropriations Committee Foreign Operations Subcommittee (HACFO) and as professional staff in the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), where she was responsible for South Asia.  Arun Kumar is the Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service and Assistant Secretary for Global Markets, International Trade Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

According to USAToday, Mr. Clawson said, “I made a mistake in speaking before being fully briefed and I apologize.  I’m a quick study, but in this case I shot an air ball.”  He has reportedly apologized to both A/S Biswal and DG/FCS Kumar according to Tampa Bay Times. On Saturday, A/S Biswal tweeted this:

 

 

Still, doesn’t that make you wonder — he wasn’t “fully briefed?”  What was he doing there?   He wasn’t listening to the introductions?  He had a “dog ate my homework” moment?  He never meet U.S. officials of color before?

Peter Beinart writes that the silly gaffe is revealing of our society where whiteness is still a proxy for being American.

He had trouble recognizing that two Americans who trace their ancestry to the developing world are really American.

In today’s Republican Party, and beyond, a lot of people are having the same trouble. How else to explain the fact that, according to a 2011 New York Times/CBS poll, 45 percent of Republicans think President Obama was born outside the United States? Is it because they’re well versed in the details of which kind of birth certificate he released and when? Of course not. It’s because they see someone with his color skin and his kind of name and think: Doesn’t seem American to me.
[...]
There’s no point in continuing to ridicule Clawson. Everyone’s entitled to a dumb mistake. But it’s worth noting how unlikely it is that he would have mistaken an Irish-American for a representative of the government of Ireland or a German-American for a representative of the government of Germany. Throughout our nation’s history, whiteness (itself a shifting category) has been used as a proxy for Americanness. And as Clawson reminded us last Thursday, it still is.

A couple related posts that you might want to check out  —  Video of the Week: Where are you from? Where are you really from? No, where are your people really from? and  Video of the Week: “But we’re speaking Japanese” 日本語喋ってるんだけ

Maybe we’ll start a series of getting to know our official USG representatives.

As a side note, these Indian-American officials do not have it easy. When they go to India on behalf of the U.S. Government, they’re told“It is a bad idea for the U.S. to send Indian-American diplomats here. They end up having to prove their loyalty to the U.S. more than others, and it doesn’t help us.” 

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U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell to Retire in May After 37 Years in the FS

– Domani Spero
The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi announced today the retirement of Ambassador Nancy Powell after 37 years in the Foreign Service:

Ambassador Nancy J. Powell Photo via US Embassy India/FB

Ambassador Nancy J. Powell
Photo via US Embassy India/FB

U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy J. Powell announced in a U.S. Mission Town Hall meeting March 31 that she has submitted her resignation to President Obama and, as planned for some time, will retire to her home in Delaware before the end of May.  She is ending a thirty-seven year career that has included postings as U.S. Ambassador to Uganda, Ghana, Pakistan, Nepal and India as well as service in Canada, Togo, Bangladesh, and Washington, where she was most recently Director General of the Foreign Service.  Ambassador Powell expressed her appreciation for the professionalism and dedication of the U.S. Mission to India team who have worked to expand the parameters of the U.S.-India bilateral relationship.  She also thanked those throughout India who have extended traditional warm Indian hospitality to her and who have supported stronger bilateral ties.

 

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Drowning in Smoggy Delhi: There’s No Blue Sky, So Where’s Blueair? (Updated)

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– Domani Spero

In December last year, Hindustan Times reported on how air and water pollution plagued Indian cities:

One in three people in India live in critically-polluted areas that have noxious levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and lung-clogging particulate matter larger than 10 micron (PM10) in size. Of the 180 cities monitored by India’s Central Pollution Control Board in 2012, only two — Malapuram and Pathanamthitta in Kerala — meet the criteria of low air pollution (50% below the standard).

The NYT also reported in February last year  that “The thick haze of outdoor air pollution common in India today is the nation’s fifth-largest killer.”

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response
Photo from January 11, 2013
(click on image to read more)

The State/OIG report from 2011 says that the health environment for US Embassy employees in India is “challenging, punctuated by frequent respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.”  That’s putting it mildly.  Reports about the air pollution in India is nothing new but has not been as widely reported as the “fog” in China. That’s probably because we have @BeijingAir monitoring crazy bad air in China and no @DelhiAir to report on India’s bad air.  NYT reported this week that “The United States does not release similar readings from its New Delhi Embassy, saying the Indian government releases its own figures.” Click here to see NYT’s follow-up report why.

The Times of India notes that “Lately, a very bad air day in Beijing is about an average one in New Delhi” and cites disturbing comparative numbers between the two cities:

Clean Air Asia, an advocacy group, found that another common measure of pollution known as PM10, for particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in diameter, averaged 117 in Beijing in a six-month period in 2011. In New Delhi, the Center for Science and Environment used government data and found that an average measure of PM10 in 2011 was 281, nearly two-and-a-half times higher.

Of course, FS folks have been living and hearing about this for years.  Haven’t you heard — “If you have asthma or other breathing issues, think long and hard before committing to New Delhi?”  Last year, an FS member said, “Very unhealthy, especially for young children, during winter when dung, garbage, and everything else is burnt for warmth, and smog traps it within Delhi.”  In 2010, somebody assigned to New Delhi warned that “Asthma and skin disorders are on the rise.

We understand that you don’t get to see the blue sky for a couple of months. In 2011, somebody called it, “the worst in the world.”

This past weekend, Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network released its 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.   The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks how well countries perform on high-priority environmental issues in two broad policy areas: protection of human health from environmental harm and protection of ecosystems.

The announcement made special mention of improvement in India’s overall performance but cites dramatic declines on air quality. The announcement notes that “India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.

India ranks 155th out of 178 countries in its efforts to address environmental challenges, according to the 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI). India performs the worst among other emerging economies including, China, which ranks 118th, Brazil, at 77th, Russia, at 73rd, and South Africa at 72nd.
[…]
In particular, India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.

“Although India is an ‘emerging market’ alongside China, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa, its environment severely lags behind these others,” said Angel Hsu of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and lead author of the report.“ Very low GDP per capita coupled with the second highest population in the world means India’s environmental challenge is more formidable than that faced by other emerging economies.”

This is not a health hazard that just showed up yesterday. So we were surprised to hear that at a town hall meeting at Embassy New Delhi, a medical professional reportedly said that none of the government issued embassy purifiers at the mission do the fine particles.

Wait, the US Embassy in New Delhi issued air purifiers that do not work for the  finest particles — the particles that do the most damage?

How did that happen?

Some folks apparently are now buying their own air purifiers. A mission member reportedly spent $1600 for purifiers to allow a breath of clean air inside the house.

Dear US Embassy India, we would have liked an official comment, but your public affairs ninja ignores email inquiries.  Call me, maybe — we’d like to know which smart dolt spent all that money for decorative air purifiers.

On a related note, early this month, China Daily reported that in December last year, the US Embassy in Beijing ordered 2,000 air purifiers  for its employees in the country from Blueair, a Swedish manufacturer:

The cheapest model from Blueair, the Blueair 203, costs 3,590 yuan ($591) from Torana Clean Air, Blueair’s official seller in Beijing, while it sells for $329 on the Best Buy and Amazon websites in the US.  The order placed for air purifiers by the US embassy was handled by the Swedish company’s American supplier, and the unit price was not disclosed.

We don’t know what types of purifiers were issued at US Embassy India.  Popular brands like Blueair, Panasonic, Daikin, Sharp, Yadu, Honeywell are compared here as used in China via myhealthbeijing.  There is also a review of air purifiers by the Consumer Report that should be worth looking into; the report is only available to subscribers.  Or check with MED which should have this information available.

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US Embassy New Delhi RSO Wayne May Given 48 Hours to Leave India Over L’Affaire Khobragade

– Domani Spero

On January 9, a grand jury indicted Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade for visa fraud and for false statements.  Around the same time, Washington granted the Indian diplomat accreditation to the Indian Mission to the United Nations and requested that India waive the immunity that her new status conferred.   After India refused, Washington reportedly asked for Ms. Khobragade’s departure from the United States.  By Friday evening, the Indian diplomat was back in New Delhi, embraced as a returning hero. Mayur Borkar, the spokesman of the Republican Party of India is quoted by Reuters saying,  “We will be meeting her soon. She is an inspiration to the people of our country.” 

The State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki says that the charges remain in place and that Ms. Khobragade is not permitted to return to the United States “except to submit to the jurisdiction of the court.”

“[T]he charges against her have not changed. Once she departed – prior to her 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. 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. This does not change the charges. The charges remain in place.”

Ms. Psaki also confirmed the Government of India’s request for the withdrawal of a specific individual from the U.S. Mission in India. Note that both sides are using the polite term “withdrawal” or “expulsion” and did not make a declaration of “persona non grata” for either individual.

“I can confirm that a U.S. official accredited to the Mission India – to Mission India will be leaving post at the request of the Government of India. We deeply regret that the Indian Government felt it was necessary to expel one of our diplomatic personnel. This has clearly been a challenging time in the U.S.-India relationship. We expect and hope that this will now come to closure and the Indians will now take significant steps with us to improve our relationship and return it to a more constructive place. I don’t have any other specific details in terms of the individual and the name of the individual or their specific travel plans at this point.”

Reciprocity also known as equivalent retaliation is the diplomatic version of a stick fight. Nobody dies or the game ends, but no blow goes unreturned, regardless of who is right or wrong.

Screen Shot 2014-01-10

(Click on image to read the text of the daily press brief with Ms. Psaki)

We‘ve learned yesterday from our State Department sources that the member of US Mission India who was asked to depart within 48 hours according to news report is Regional Security Officer and Supervisory Special Agent Wayne May. His wife who works at the embassy as a Community Liaison Officer will presumably also leave.  Mr. May has now departed the country according to the Times of India.  On local media, he is alleged as either having issued the visas or alleged to have facilitated the travel to the United States of Sangeeta Richard’s family. The Times of India is reporting a direct connection between RSO Wayne May and the family of the Kohbragade maid.

The parents-in-law of Sangeeta Richard, the domestic help at the centre of the India-US diplomatic spat, worked with US diplomat Wayne May who was expelled by India for his role in the Devyani Khobragade episode. This seems to be the main reason why May is said to have gone out of his way to facilitate the “evacuation” of Sangeeta’s husband Philip and children by arranging T-visas (trafficking) for them.

We don’t know much of the the specifics of this case except through the USDOJ posted documents. We do know this — Mr. May is a member of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the law enforcement arm of the US Department of State.  As an RSO, his responsibility includes security,  investigations and threat analysis overseas.  We estimate that he manage about a quarter of the embassy staff in New Delhi.  Since the Khobragade case was a criminal investigation, we doubt very much if Mr. May just woke up one day and decided on his own to piss off the host country by doing whatever he did. Or did not do.  As far as we know, Mr. May is not a consular officer who issues visas nor a travel agent who process airline tickets. But apparently, he is the “it” person in this multi-phase diplomatic rat-tat-tat over a diplomat who allegedly underpaid her maid and was strip searched during her arrest.

It is  our understanding that Mr. May has been the RSO in New Delhi since 2010.  So yeah, he is already due for a regular rotation.

Now, the big question is — who will the GOI demand to leave next, the fingerprint lady on Window #6?

Today, it is widely reported on Indian media that India is also insisting that the US should drop the charges of visa fraud against its diplomat as she was not guilty of any wrongdoing according to External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid. That indictment could actually be more problematic for the GOI.  Besides its missions in Washington, D.C. and New York, India has consulates general in San Francisco, Chicago, Houston and Atlanta. The minimum wages for those locations are as follows: California-$8.00 per hour; becomes $9.00 on July 1, 2014 (San Francisco minimum wage is higher at $10.55 per hour); Illinois-$8.25 per hour; Texas -$7.25 per hour; Georgia-$5.15 per hour. California’s Domestic Worker Bill of Rights also went into effect on January 1, 2014.  Writing for Hindustan Times, former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal (via) said this: “Indian diplomats taking domestic staff to the US accept the minimum wage requirement when all concerned, including the US visa services and the State Department, know this is done pro-forma to have the paper work in order.” NDTV reports that Indian diplomats in the US are worried “since their domestic helps also come on A3 visa like Ms Richards.” The report using unnamed sources says that there are “around 14 such ‘ticking time bombs’ in the US right now.”

A side note on the “T” visas for victims of human trafficking and qualifying family members — that’s not something that one office or one person can just issue because the official feel sorry for the applicant.  The “T” visa status is obtained from the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). One of the eligibility criteria is for an applicant to “Demonstrate that [he/she] would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if removed from the United States.”  Victims of trafficking applicants are also strongly encouraged to submit Form I-914, Supplement B, Declaration of Law Enforcement Officer for Victim of Trafficking in Persons, to show law enforcement agency support.  That declaration, signed by a law enforcement officer and a supervisory officer serves as primary evidence that the applicant is a victim of trafficking and that he/she has complied with reasonable requests from law enforcement. Once USCIS approves the change of status to a “T” visa, the applicant then had to deal with USCIS Vermont Service Center in St. Albans, VT.  to obtain derivative approval for qualifying family members.  Family members overseas then have to apply for their visas at their nearest embassy overseas.

To imagine that all this was orchestrated by one officer, including the investigation in the United States, and the actual filing of charges by the Southern District of New York because the escaped maid’s in-laws work for the officer’s family in New Delhi is simply ludicrous.

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U.S. Grand Jury Indicts Indian Diplomat Devyani Khobragade (See Documents)

– Domani Spero

On January 9, a U.S. Grandy Jury indicted Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade for visa fraud (count one) and for false statements (count two). The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has now posted copies of the indictment and the exhibits (includes the alleged fake employment contract and alleged real employment contract).

INDICTMENT, EXHIBITS & RELATED LETTER: U.S. v. Devyani Khobragade

A U.S. government official told Reuters that the State Department accepted India’s request to accredit Ms. Khobragade at the Indian Mission to the United Nations and then asked India to waive her diplomatic immunity that the status conferred.  India reportedly denied the request which resulted in Washington asking for Ms. Khobragade’s departure from the United States.

Apparently, one of Ms. Khobragade’s attorneys told CNN late Thursday afternoon that she was still in the United States, but declined to say whether she planned to leave later. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York subsequently released the following statement:

“This Office had been advised by the State Department that, pursuant to their request, Devyani Khobragade was to have left the United States this afternoon. In a letter sent to the Court upon the filing of the Indictment of Ms. Khobragade, we stated our understanding that she had left the country. Subsequent to the filing of the letter, Ms. Khobragade’s lawyer advised that she has not, in fact, departed the U.S.”

This may end the contentious U.S.-India row but this is not the end of the case against Ms. Khobragade.  In a filing to the New York court, Manhattan US attorney Preet Bharara writes that “the charges will remain pending until such time as she can be brought to Court to face the charges, either through a waiver of immunity or the defendant’s return to the United States in a non-immune status.”

Pending charges could complicate future plans of visiting or residing in the United States as Ms. Khobragade is reportedly married to a U.S. citizen.

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Indian Diplomat Devyani Khobragade Strip Search Video Is Fake – Here’s Proof

– Domani Spero

There is a video circulating on social media which claims to be showing the CCTV footage of the strip search of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade after her arrest in New York.   The video was “user submitted” on zemtv.com on January 3, 2013 under the headline CCTV Footage of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade being strip searched By U.S Police. The video is online on Tune.pk, Pakistan’s video sharing website where it has 18.9K views, on DailyMotion where it has 123,011 views and on YouTube, where the video is no longer displayed but the following notice is up “Indian diplomat D…” This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Arup Bhattacharya.” Both videos are 1:10 minutes in length and appears to be the same footage.

Screen Shot 2014-01-04

Click on image to view the video on Tune.pk
(Warning: graphic images)

screen capture of YouTube video

screen capture of YouTube video

This alleged CCTV footage of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade’s strip search is a hoax.  It is ill-intentioned and could put Americans, particularly official Americans in danger.  Given that the Khobragade’s case has already spawned a good number of conspiracy theories, particularly in India, we don’t think that people will just accept it when we say this is a hoax. “Allegedly a hoax” is how the official denial that this video is a hoax is referred to in some parts of social media.

This is not/not “allegedly a hoax” but a real hoax. Nothing but video fakery and we’ve got proof.

The woman in the alleged Khobragade video is not/not the Indian diplomat but Hope Steffey, a U.S. citizen strip-searched by the Stark County sheriff’s department in Ohio in 2006.  The video was obtained by Ms. Steffey’s lawyer and released to the public in 2008 (See 12:44 minute video with Tom Meyer for WKYC-TV, Channel 3, Cleveland, OH)

The screen capture from a report by WKYC-TV (uploaded by a different YouTube user) shows the same woman on a blue mattress being strip searched.

Screen Shot 2014-01-04

Click on image to view video of Hope Steffey in the Stark Country jail in Ohio, 2008.
(Warning: Graphic images)

In June 2010, WKYC-TV reported that the settlement of the Hope Steffey lawsuit against Stark County Sheriff Tim Swanson, accusing his deputies of using brutal and excessive force resulted in the payment of $475,000. The total cost to Stark County to defend and settle the Steffey lawsuit was reportedly more than $705,000.  It also resulted in the insurance premium for the country county to dramatically jump from $34,261 in 2008 to $195,350 in 2010.

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Balwinder Singh aka ‘Happy’ Charged with Conspiring to Provide Material Support to Terrorism Groups in India and Pakistan

– Domani Spero

The day after Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the arrest of  Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade for visa fraud and false statements and caused a diplomatic row, another arrest in Reno, Nevada of Indian national  and U.S. legal resident, Balwinder Singh for conspiring to provide material support to terrorism groups in India and Pakistan barely made the news.

Below via USDOJ:

Reno Man Charged with Conspiring to Provide Material Support to Terrorism Groups in India and Pakistan | December 13, 2013

A Reno, Nev. man has been charged with providing material support to terrorism groups in India and Pakistan in order to intimidate the Indian government and to harm persons that were not supporting their cause, announced John Carlin, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, Daniel G. Bogden, U.S. Attorney for the District of Nevada, and Laura A. Bucheit, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI for Nevada.

“A thorough investigation and cooperation among agencies led to these charges,” said U.S. Attorney Bogden.  “Investigating and prosecuting matters of national security is the top priority of the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Balwinder Singh, aka Jhajj, aka, Happy, aka Possi, aka Baljit Singh, 39, of Reno, is charged in an indictment with one count of conspiracy to murder, kidnap, and maim persons in a foreign country, one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, one count of making a false statement on an immigration document, two counts of use of an immigration document procured by fraud, and one count of unlawful production of an identification document.   Singh was arrested on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, in Reno, and is scheduled to appear before a U.S. Magistrate Judge on Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, for an initial appearance and arraignment.

“After an extensive investigation, the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) of Northern Nevada has disrupted an individual’s involvement in facilitation activities in support of a foreign terrorist organization, targeting an ally of the United States,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Bucheit. “We will continue to work with our international partners to prevent acts of terrorism on U.S. soil or, as in this case, on that of an ally. This investigation demonstrates the importance of law enforcement coordination and collaboration here and around the world.”

According to the indictment, Singh was a citizen of India who fled to the United States and claimed asylum.  Singh lived in the United States where he eventually obtained a permanent resident card from the United States.  The indictment alleges that Singh is a member of two terrorist organizations, Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) and Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF), whose members aim to establish an independent Sikh state in part of the Punjab region of India known as Khalistan. These groups engage in bombings, kidnappings and murders in India to intimidate and compel the Indian government to create the state of Khalistan.  These groups also target for assassination persons they consider traitors to the Sikh religion and government officials who they consider responsible for atrocities against the Sikhs.

The indictment alleges that the object of the conspiracy was to advance the goals of BKI and KZF by raising money and obtaining weapons to support acts of terrorism in India.  It is alleged that the conspiracy began on a date unknown but no later than Nov. 30, 1997.  It is alleged that Singh used a false identity and obtained false identification documents in the United States so that he could travel back to India without being apprehended by the Indian authorities.  It is alleged that Singh communicated with other coconspirators by telephone while he was in the United States to discuss acts of terrorism to be carried out in India.  It is alleged that Singh sent money from Reno, Nev., to co-conspirators in India for the purchase of weapons that would be provided to members of the BKI and KZF to support acts of terrorism in India. It is alleged that Singh traveled from the United States to Pakistan, India, and other countries to meet with coconspirators to assist in the planning of terrorism in India, and that Singh provided advice to coconspirators about how to carry out acts of terrorism.

If convicted, Singh faces up to life in prison and fines of up to $250,000 on each count.

The case is being investigated by the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force in northern Nevada, and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sue Fahami and Brian L. Sullivan, and Trial Attorney Mara M. Kohn of the U.S. Department of Justice Counterterrorism Section.

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In related news, on December 18, in a widely reported retaliation for the treatment of its diplomat in New York, the Indian government removed the security barriers at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.

On December 25, Hindustan Times  writes about the “rumblings” in the U.S. Congress over the removal of the security barriers:  “We can understand the anger and the other measures,” said a senior congressional aide on condition of anonymity, “but removing the barriers has raised security concerns.

On December 29, the Times of India says that Indian officials speaking on background refuted “the US suggestion that they were being vengeful towards the US diplomatic corps and endangering the US embassy.” Seriously.  That’s why there was full press court and cameras when it took the muscular response of dismantling the concrete security barricades and spike strips around Embassy Delhi.  So apparently, the security barriers now have its own mini-drama. The TOI report says  that “A decision to remove the barriers was taken several weeks back when the US side removed a diplomatic parking lane in front of the Indian embassy in Washington DC (that also served as security perimeter) and turned it into public parking.”

Coincidences bumping into each other on the dark side of the moon.

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Embassy Row’s Dirty Little Secret: Abuse of Migrant Domestic Workers by Diplomats

– Domani Spero

The logic behind a restrictive interpretation of functional immunity is that while a diplomat may be protected from some distractions to aid his purpose, there ought to be no need for him to violate the laws of his host state to do so. As many legal scholars have pointed out, a diplomats behaviour in his host country is best described by the Arabic proverb, يا غريب خليك أديب (ya ghareeb, khalleek adeeb) – O stranger, be thou courteous. — Jaideep Prabhu 

Back when ….

In 2007, the Department of State reported that some foreign diplomats may be abusing the household workers they brought to the United States on A-3 or G-5 visas.  A subsequent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report the following year revealed that 42 household workers with A-3 or G-5 visas alleged that they were abused by foreign diplomats with immunity from 2000 through 2008. The GAO believes the total number of alleged incidents since 2000 is likely higher for four reasons: household workers’ fear of contacting law enforcement, nongovernmental organizations’ protection of victim confidentiality, limited information on some cases handled by the U.S. government, and federal agencies’ challenges identifying cases.

Via GAO 2008

Via GAO 2008

Each year, the State Department issues A-3 and G-5 visas to individuals whose employers are foreign diplomats on official purposes in the United States. Most of these individuals are hired to work for foreign diplomats in the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, or Virginia. According to the 2008 GAO report, for fiscal years 2000 through 2007, 207 U.S. embassies and consular posts overseas issued 10,386 A-3 visas and 7,522 G-5 visas.

Recent State Department statistics indicate that from 2008 through 2012, it issued 5,330 A-3 visas to attendant, servant, or personal employee of A1 visa holders (ambassador, public minister, career diplomat, consul, and immediate family) and A2 visa holders (other foreign government official or employee, and immediate family).  It also issued 4,196 G-5 visas to attendant, servant, or personal employee of G1 through G4 (international organization officials and representatives).  That’s about a 50% decrease on A-3 visas and a 44% decrease in G5 visas issued since 2008. What might have accounted for that huge drop?

How about the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008?  Click here for the laws on trafficking in persons dating back to the year 2000.

In any case — five years ago today, President George W. Bush signed the TVPRA to combat human trafficking. Section 203 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 requires the secretary of state to suspend  the issuance of A–3 visas or G–5 visas to applicants seeking to work for officials of a diplomatic mission or an international organization, if the Secretary determines that there is credible evidence that 1 or more employees of such mission or international organization have abused or exploited 1 or more nonimmigrants holding an A–3 visa or a G–5 visa, and that the diplomatic mission or international organization tolerated such actions.

No secretary of state has ever exercise the authority to suspend any diplomatic mission despite some repeat offenders. For a look at what the State Department has done/not done when it comes to TVPA and domestic employees of foreign diplomats in the United States, read Janie A. Chuang’s critical paper on Achieving Accountability for Migrant Domestic Worker Abuse in the 2010 North Carolina Law Review.  One of the sections talks about the State Department’s “Failure to Use Power to Name, Shame, and Deter Wrongdoers.”

Chief of Mission Accountability

In 2008, the State Department through USUN sent this note verbale on the Treatment of Domestic Workers at UN Missions.

Recently, the host country has learned of a number of allegations of trafficking in persons with respect to domestic workers, including allegations of involuntary servitude and physical abuse. For example, this Mission has periodically been informed of instances where wages actually paid are less than those stipulated in an employment contract; where passports have been withheld from employees; where the actual number of working hours is considerably greater than those initially contemplated and no additional pay is provided; and where an employee is forbidden from leaving an employer’s premises even when off-duty. The United States Mission takes seriously any such allegation brought to its attention and refers these cases, as appropriate, to the United States Department of Justice for review and investigation.  
[...]
The United States Mission also wishes to advise the Permanent Missions that its commitment to fair and reasonable labor conditions is consistent with its commitment to human rights and, further, comports with the practice of other governments and with the requirements imposed by international organizations on their employees who have foreign domestic workers.  Although the United States recognizes that the great majority of diplomats and Mission personnel are law-abiding members of the United Nations community, it is necessary to periodically re-circulate and update information regarding United States laws, regulations and policies regarding the employment of personal domestic servants.
In fact, if you take a look at this archive of diplomatic notes, it is clear that the treatment of domestic employees, their contracts, prevailing wage, pre-notification requirements are recurring subjects.

In a 2009 diplomatic note, the State Department puts the heads of missions on notice that they are generally accountable for the treatment of domestic workers employed by their mission. We presume that this is a recurring reminder that the State Department sends to all diplomatic missions in the United States:

The United States Mission looks to the Permanent Representatives to be responsible for the conduct of the members of their missions and for ensuring that their treatment of domestic workers in their employ evidences respect for all relevant United States laws. In this regard, it is  recommended that the Permanent Mission maintain copies of the signed domestic worker contracts and be able to review such contracts, as well as records of payments made to each domestic worker, in the event that the United States Mission seeks assistance if faced with credible allegations of a mission member’s mistreatment of a domestic worker.

The United States Mission and/or the Department of State refer credible allegations of abuse of domestic workers by mission members which may constitute criminal conduct to the United States Department of Justice. In that context, the United States Mission and the Department of State may take other appropriate action, including, based on the determination by an appropriate prosecuting authority that prosecution is warranted, a request for a waiver of any applicable immunity. Mission members are not only expected to pay the greater of the minimum or prevailing wage and abide by other contract terms, but they should also be aware that in the United States, withholding a person’s passport maybe evidence of the crime of trafficking in persons if it is done with the intent of keeping that person in a state of forced labor or service.

In the Trafficking in Persons Report 2010, the State Department notes the following:
Worldwide, domestic workers employed by diplomats suffer abuses ranging from wage exploitation to trafficking offenses. Diplomats are government officials who serve their governments abroad and are generally able to apply for visas enabling domestic workers – often from third countries – to accompany them on their foreign assignments.
Because domestic servants working for diplomats work behind closed doors – cleaning, cooking, and caring for children – they can become invisible to the neighborhoods and communities they live in. Domestic workers brought into a country by diplomats face potentially greater isolation than other workers because of language and cultural barriers, ignorance of the law, and sheer distance from family and friends. They work for government officials who may appear to them to hold exceptional power and/or influence. The resulting invisibility and isolation of such workers raises concerns about the potential for diplomatic employers to ignore the terms of their employment contracts and to restrict their domestic workers’ freedom of movement and subject them to various abuses. Because diplomats generally enjoy immunity from civil and criminal jurisdiction while on assignment, legal recourse and remedies available to domestic workers in their employ – and the criminal response otherwise available to the host government – are often significantly limited.
And in March 2012, during the Annual Meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this:

“We thought it was unfair for diplomats who victimized their own domestic workers were, because of diplomatic immunity, virtually untouchable. So now, we’re making sure that diplomats coming to this country understand their obligations and responsibilities, and we’re taking action when we have evidence that they are not.”

No one paid attention then,  but they’re paying attention now.

In the latest diplomatic row between the United States and India, the Times of India provided an unconfirmed timeline of the events.   It indicates that the State Department reportedly wrote to the Indian ambassador in Washington, D.C. on September 4, 2013 expressing “considerable concern” over the allegations.  On September 21, the Indian Embassy reportedly replied, “that this was none of US’ business and that the maid was seeking a monetary settlement and US visa, whereby subverting both Indian and US laws.”

If that timeline is accurate, one has to ask who miscalculated whose response?

 

“This is happening 10 miles from the White House”

- Martina Vandenberg, Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center

Despite the many notable cases of abuse by diplomats ranging from non-payment of wages to sexual assaults, we do not see very often an arrest of a foreign diplomat or international representative in the United States. But following the arrest of  IMF’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2011, Reuters did report the following:

Foreign diplomats have been the subject of at least 11 civil lawsuits and one criminal prosecution related to abuse of domestic workers in the last five years, according to a Reuters review of U.S. federal court records. The allegations range from slave-like work conditions to rape, and the vast majority of the diplomats in these cases avoided prison terms and financial penalties.

We have not been able to locate all civil lawsuits but the cases below are just a sampling of abuse allegations by domestic employees against their foreign diplomat-employers in the United States in the last several years.

Tae Sook PARK v. Bong Kil SHIN (South Korean Consulate/San Francisco) | Tae Sook Park, a domestic servant sued Deputy Consul General Bong Kil Shin of the Korean Consulate in San Francisco.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court decision dismissing Park’s claims of labor law violations. It held that the deputy consul was not entitled to immunity under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations or the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, and remanded the case back to district court. He later became ambassador.

Swarna v. Al-Awadi (Kuwait Embassy)|  Swarna Vishranthamma took to court her former employers, Badar Al-Awadi and his wife, Halal Muhammad Al-Shaitan and the State of Kuwait in 2009.  At the time of the events in question, Mr. Al-Awadi was a diplomat serving in New York City with the Permanent Mission of the State of Kuwait to the United Nations. According to WaPo,  Kuwaiti government hired a prominent law firm to defend him in the civil case — in court filings, he has denied the allegations — and then later promoted him to be Kuwait’s ambassador to Cuba.

Mildrate Yancho Nchang (Cameroon Embassy) | According to WaPo,  Nchang filed a case against her employers alleging she toiled for three years without pay or a day off and then was hospitalized after being beaten by a Cameroonian diplomat’s wife. She sued in federal court in Maryland, but the case was dismissed in 2006 when the diplomat asserted immunity.

Mazengo v. Mzengi, et.al. (Tanzania Embassy)| In 2007, Ms. Mazengo, a citizen of Tanzania, sued her former employers, defendants Alan S. Mzengi and Stella Mzengi, husband and wife, alleging that they falsely imprisoned her and subjected her to involuntary servitude and forced labor in violation of federal law. Alan S. Mzengi was a diplomat accredited to the embassy of the Republic of Tanzania.  WikiLeaks Alert: See the State-USEmbassy Tanzania demarche on the outstanding restitution for TIP victim, Ms. Zipora Mazengo.

Regina Leo (Kuwaiti Embassy) | In July, 2008, a lawsuit was filed against an attache in the Embassy of Kuwait, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Al Naser, and his family, by their former maid, Regina Leo, an Indian immigrant who alleged that she was forced to work as much as 18 hours per day.

Marichu Suarez Baoana (Philippine Embassy) | According to WaPo, in 2009, Ms. Baoana, a Philippine national sued the Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations, Lauro L. Baja Jr. alleging she was forced to endure 126-hour workweeks with no pay, performing household chores and caring for the couple’s grandchild.

Daedema Ramos (Kuwait Embassy) | In 2010, the Filipina housekeeper left a Kuwaiti diplomat’s Manhattan duplex where she worked 20 hours a day, earning as little s $500 a month. With help from Damayan, a grassroots organization fighting for the rights of low-wage Filipino migrant workers she escape her employer, and was encouraged to fight back. In July 2012, the diplomat settled with her after she demanded unpaid wages.

Sophia Kiwanuka (World Bank) | According to Reuters, World Bank economist, Anne Margreth Bakilana, hired a Tanzanian woman, Sophia Kiwanuka, to work in her home in Falls Church, Virginia, and improperly withheld Kiwanuka’s wages and threatened to send her back to Tanzania, according to court records. She pleaded guilty in 2010 and was sentenced to two years probation and fined $9,400.

Bhardwaj v. Dayal et al (Indian Embassy) |  In 2011, Indian national Santosh Bhardwaj filed a lawsuit against Indian Consul General Prabhu Dayal for allegedly intimidating her into a year of forced labor, where she was subjected to 105-hour workweeks for $300 per month. According to Indian Express, in December 2012, the Indian Ministry of Finance approved payment of $75,000 from the budget of Ministry of External Affairs to a “former domestic assistant” who had filed a lawsuit against India’s consul-general in New York, Prabhu Dayal. Click here to read an interview with Mr. Dayal in India Today concerning his case and the Khobragade case.

Araceli Montuya (Lebanon Embassy ) | She filed a lawsuit against  her former employer, the Lebanese Ambassador Antoine Chedid. On April 2011, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington threw out a case in which Montuya alleged that Chedid and his wife underpaid and verbally abused her.

Four former cooks and housekeepers (Qatar Embassy) |  According to Reuters, on March 2011, four former cooks and housekeepers for Essa Mohammed Al Manai, Qatar’s second-highest ranking diplomat in the United States filed a civil lawsuit alleging they were paid less than 70 cents per hour and “forced to work around the clock” at Al Manai’s six-bedroom home in Bethesda, Maryland. The suit also claimed that one of the women was sexually assaulted. More here.

F.V. (The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office) |  In 2011, Hsien-Hsien “Jacqueline” Liu, 64, of Taiwan, high-ranking representative of Taiwan was charged in federal court with fraud in foreign labor contracting for fraudulently obtaining a Filipino servant for her residence. Liu paid the Filipino worker $400-450 per month, although the employment contract stipulated a salary of $1,240 per month. Liu allegedly required the victim to work six days a week, 16 to 18 hours a day, and forbid her to leave the house without permission. (See Taiwanese Official in Kansas Charged for “Fraudulently Obtaining a Filipino Servant”).  Liu was arrested by the FBI on Nov. 10, 2011 and was detained for two months before entering a plea agreement. She eventually entered a plea agreement and was ordered to pay US$80,044 in restitution to the two maids. According to the Taipei Times, in 2012, Liu was suspended from her duties for two years for “seriously damaging the country’s reputation.”

Gurung v. Mahotra (Indian Embassy) | In 2012, a New York City Magistrate Judge  ordered Neena Malhotra, an Indian diplomat and her husband Jogesh to pay nearly $1.5 million reportedly arising from their employment of an Indian girl, Shanti Gurung who alleged “barbaric treatment” while she was employed as their domestic worker.

C.V. (Mauritius Embassy) | According to The Record, in 2012, Somuth Soborun, the Republic of Mauritius’ ambassador to the US pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor offense in September, admitting that he failed to properly pay a domestic worker minimum hourly and overtime wages between December 2008 and August 2009. He was fined $5,000.  As part of his plea agreement, Soborun has already paid $24,153 in restitution to the domestic worker, who was identified in court papers only by the initials C.V.

Kumari Sabbithi, Joaquina Quadros and Tina Fernandes (Kuwaiti Embassy) | In 2012, the ACLU represented three Indian women who were employed as domestic workers by Major Waleed Al Saleh and his wife Maysaa Al Omar of McLean, Virginia.  The complaint alleged that they were brought to the U.S. in the summer of 2005 and that they were forced to work every day from 6:30 a.m. until sometimes as late as 1:30 a.m. for approximately $250 to $350 a month. The complaint further alleged that they were subjected to threats and verbal and physical abuse, including one incident in which Al Saleh threw one of the women, Sabbithi, against a kitchen table, knocking her unconscious. The Kuwaiti government agreed to settle the case brought by three women who claimed that they were trafficked to the United States by a Kuwaiti diplomat and his wife.

USA v. Devyani Khobragade |  In December 2013, the Indian Deputy Consul General Arrested For Visa Fraud and False Statements Related to Domestic Worker

The  reported abuse of migrant domestic workers by diplomats and the staff of international organizations typically include wages and hour violations, passport deprivation, denial of the workers’ right to leave the house or premises in which they work, physical, sexual and emotional abuse and invasion of privacy, where domestic workers often have their rooms searched, their mail opened, and are not allowed to make private phone calls.  For additional reading, see  Joy M. Zarembka’s Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy,which details the plight of some of the domestic workers brought to the U.S. by employees of international organizations.

Maid in Manhattan Case: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the Man Who Makes Embassy Row Tremble

We suspect that nowhere is the  Khobragade Affair watched more closely than in the United Nations in New York and in the Embassy Row (the informal name for the streets and area of Washington, D.C. in which embassies, diplomatic missions, and other diplomatic representations are concentrated).  Besides India, that is.  To avoid possible “misunderstanding,” the State Department has recommended that diplomats keep employment records of their domestic workers including work hours and payment, records that should be maintained for the duration of actual employment of domestic employees plus three years.  Would be interesting to see how many diplomatic missions in the United States actually take this recommendation seriously.

In an interview with India Today published on December 23, the former Indian Consul General Prabhu Dayal who was taken to court by his former housekeeper in New York said that “in our consulates in the US, there is a lot of fear today.”

“India’s view has been that the domestic assistants of our diplomats hold Official Passports and should be outside the purview of US labour laws. The US side has not agreed to this, insisting that US laws apply to them. This impasse continues.[...] even if were were to revamp our system relating to domestic assistants, we will not be able to guarantee that our officials in our Consulates will not be arrested or dragged into law courts for some  reason or another in future. The US is a highly litigious country where suing people is a sort of favourite past time. [...] There is no doubt, however that our officers posted at the Consulate in New York have begun to feel very insecure after all these recent cases, and the same may also be true for the other Consulates in Chicago, San Francisco, Houston and Atlanta. How will India protect its diplomats posted to the Consulates given the US position on immunity?”

But perhaps the more telling parts during this incident is the on the record statement made by a senior Indian official quoted by the Times of India below:
“Which Indian would pay a help Rs 6500 ($ 100) a day?” asked Shakti Sinha, a former principal secretary in the government of India who did various stints abroad, including at the World Bank and various UN agencies, assuming eight normal working hours.

FirstPost.com reports  on India’s former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal’s opinion on this matter, quoting the former official as saying:

“There is much chicanery involved here. Indian diplomats taking domestic staff to the US accept the minimum wage requirement when all concerned, including the US visa services and the State Department, know this is done pro-forma to have the paper work in order. To imagine that the US authorities are duped into believing that our diplomats will pay their domestic staff more than what they earn is absurd. The US authorities have been clearing such visas for years to practically resolve the contradiction between reality and the letter of the law.”

And that’s probably why “there is a lot of fear today.”

Apparently, according to NYT, there are 14 other Indian maids working for Indian diplomats in the United States, and “India is negotiating over their status with the State Department.”  If a Deputy Consul General could be hauled to jail for underpaying her domestic employee, who could Preet Bharara go after next?

Dirty Laundry Gets Washed

The State Department’s TIP 2012 report says that “U.S. government employees, their dependents, and members of their households do not have immunity in the U.S. domestic legal framework for acts of human trafficking associated with domestic staff occurring at overseas postings. Any such reports will be fully investigated by Diplomatic Security and/or the Office of the Inspector General and, where appropriate, may result in either an administrative penalty and/or referral to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution. These measures apply to Department of State employees overseas as well as their dependents and other members of household.”

It’s not an accident that the above item was included in the report.  The State Department had two recent cases of domestic worker abuse.

Harold and Kimberly Countryman | In 2006, Harold Countryman, a former Department of State agent, and his wife, Kimberly Countryman, a realtor in northern Virginia, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting visa fraud.  According to the plea agreement, Kimberly Countryman admitted to using the fraudulent visa to further the forced labor of a Cambodian woman in their employ. According to court documents, the couple provided materially false information to the Department of State to obtain a visa on behalf of a Cambodian woman, who they then brought to the United States to work for them as a domestic servant for two years. In the plea agreement, Kimberly Countryman admitted that she procured the visa with reason to believe that the visa would be used to commit a felony, namely forced labor. As a result, Kimberly Countryman is subject to an increase in her sentence. Kimberly Countryman acknowledged that she withheld a portion of the woman’s pay, took possession of the woman’s passport, and physically assaulted the woman.  As part of the plea agreement, the Countrymans were required to pay $50,000 in restitution and $50,000 in forfeiture.

Linda  and Russell Howard |  In 2011, Jane Doe, an Ethiopian national in her 30s filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against a State Department employee Linda Howard and her husband, Russell Howard, alleging involuntary servitude, forced labor and human trafficking in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).  She alleged that she was forced to work more than 80 hours a week for less than a dollar an hour; the exact amount was $0.88 an hour; the minimum hourly wage at the time of Jane Doe’s employment was $6.55 an hour.  Court awarded a default judgment to Jane Doe for total damages of $3,306,468.  Linda and Russell Howard had reportedly left the United States. See Court Awards $3.3 Million Default Judgment Against State Dept Couple Accused of Slavery and Rape of Housekeeper.

The Signal Plus the Noise, the Diplomatic Edition

The suspension of a high-ranking Taiwanese official for two years for “seriously damaging the country’s reputation” is the only case we are aware of in recent memory where an official was disciplined by the sending country in the aftermath of U.S. federal charges related to the treatment of a domestic worker.  In most cases, it looks like the official in question, protected by the sending state, gets moved elsewhere,  or even gets a promotion with no career repercussion. Clearly underpayment or mistreatment of a domestic employee is not considered a serious offense by a good number of diplomatic missions.

While diplomats continue to dodge cases like this behind diplomatic immunity, and as long as governments stand behind their diplomats when they commit infractions like this, the practice will continue. As the German Institute of Human Right points out: “...[E]mployers’ diplomatic immunity in prac­tice overrules the human rights of the victim and leads to a situation of de facto-unaccountability and –impu­nity for exploitative employers.”

In this India-U.S. row, we note that the outrage is focused on the circumstances of the diplomat’s arrest. And that is understandable. But it is also important to note that while the focus of the  outrage is the strip-search, few are talking about the alleged treatment of the domestic worker.  Unless, of course, we’re talking about the former Khobragade maid as a CIA agent.

In early December, Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York also charged 49 Russian Diplomats/Spouses With Picking Uncle Sam’s Pocket in Medicaid Scam. Most of the diplomats charged are no longer in the country. And of the defendants still  here, most are attached to the UN Mission and presumably enjoy diplomatic immunity. If the U.S. may not be able to put anyone in jail nor be able to recoup the thousands of dollars in scammed Medicaid money, why charged them?  We suspect that the charges were brought to put a stop to the scam.  Basically a megaphone saying — we know what you’re doing, shame on you, now stop it.

As complicated as the Khobragade case may seem, it will be resolved eventually. A $90 billion bilateral trade partnership is at stake. Who would throw that partnership over the cliff for a mid-level official?  Or for an underpaid housemaid?  Stay tuned.  Perhaps the more interesting take on this incident is by Alison Frankel who writes, “For all we know, the State Department intended to send a message to the international diplomatic corps, which is often accused of cloaking itself in diplomatic immunity to avoid claims of mistreating domestic staff.”

Do we have an aha moment here?

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Filed under Ambassadors, Compensation, Diplomacy, Diplomatic Immunity, Diplomatic Life, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Hall of Shame, India, Realities of the FS, State Department, Visas

Maid in Manhattan Case: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the Man Who Makes Embassy Row Tremble

– Domani Spero

On December 12, USDOJ announced the arrest of Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade for visa fraud related to her underpaid domestic employee.

The uproar caused by the arrest has only grown in the last several days.  In response to the arrest of its diplomat, India took several retaliatory actions against the U.S. Mission in India. Several examples below according to DNA India, some obviously petty, but others more serious:

  • Indian government officials cancelled their meetings with a visiting US Congressional delegation.
  • Called for details including salaries paid to all Indian staff employed at the US consulates, including Consulate officers & family.
  • Stopped all import clearances for US embassy including food and liquor.
  • “The government has asked for all US Consulate personnel’s ID cards and that of their families immediately. These will now be downgraded on par with with what the US provides to our Consulates in US,” sources said.
  • Asked the US to provide it with visa information and other details of all teachers at US schools and pay and bank accounts of Indians in these schools.

Then the former External Affairs Minister and BJP leader, Yashwant Sinha, called on the government to reciprocate against the alleged mistreatment of its diplomat by arresting the same sex companions of American diplomats using a Supreme Court verdict in India that restored a ban on gay sex.  “Put them behind bars, prosecute them in this country and punish them,” Mr Sinha said.  It appears he wasn’t alone.  According to NPR, a “senior Indian diplomat” told The Hindu that the government could retaliate against the gay partners of U.S. diplomats.  “We also know who all have brought in their gay partners and on what grounds they were given visas though there is a law against it in India,” the official said. “We can’t talk about it because this law is controversial and outdated but if the U.S. wants to go to this extent, then this law and several other options are there.”

On December 17, Delhi Police also removed the security barricades set up outside the American Embassy. “The ministry of external affairs requested us to remove these traffic measures around the US embassy and clear the road. The Nyaya Marg has been opened for public,” Special commissioner of Delhi Police (security) Taj Hassan told PTI.

The Indian Government must think of embassy security as a diplomatic privilege and not an obligation.  The Global Terrorism Index ranked India 4th (after Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan) as most affected by terrorism over a 10-year period.  So there is obviously a reason for those barricades.

Meanwhile, the diplomat at the center of the storm has written a letter to her colleagues, which was released online, and certainly adding to the furor about her alleged mistreatment:

My dear colleagues – senior and junior, 

I am so grateful for all the outpouring of unequivocal support and backing that has been available to me from the fraternity. I take comfort in the confidence that this invaluable support will also be translated into strong and swift action, to ensure the safety of me and my children, as also to preserve the dignity of our service which is unquestionably under siege.

While I was going through it, although I must admit that I broke down many times as the indignities of repeated handcuffing, stripping and cavity searches, swabbing, hold up with common criminals and drug addicts were all being imposed upon me despite my incessant assertions of immunity, I got the strength to regain composure and remain dignified thinking that I must represent all of my colleagues and my country with confidence and pride.

I feel I can continue to do so thanks to this strong and prolific support. I cannot say more now but will later, I did feel the deep need to thank you all so much. 

On December 18, the Embassy of India in Washington, D.C. released a statement that provides additional details of this case including accusations that the maid, Sangeeta Richard, Ms. Khobragade’s “domestic assistant” blackmailed her former employer and also have “taken cash, mobile phone and documents.”

On the same day, Secretary Kerry reportedly called Indian National Security Advisor Menon to discuss the December 12th arrest of Deputy Consul General Khobragade.  According to the State Department, in his conversation with National Security Advisor Menon, Secretary Kerry  “expressed his regret, as well as his concern that we not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt our close and vital relationship with India.”

Also on December 18, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara  released a statement on the United States v. Devyani Khobragade case, clearing up misconceptions about the circumstances surrounding her arrest. No, she was not arrested in front of her children, and she was not handcuffed or restrained. And yes, she 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.” Zing!

Below is the full statement:

There has been much misinformation and factual inaccuracy in the reporting on the charges against Devyani Khobragade. It is important to correct these inaccuracies because they are misleading people and creating an inflammatory atmosphere on an unfounded basis. Although I am quite limited in my role as a prosecutor in what I can say, which in many ways constrains my ability here to explain the case to the extent I would like, I can nevertheless make sure the public record is clearer than it has been thus far.

First, Ms. Khobragade was charged based on conduct, as is alleged in the Complaint, that shows she clearly tried to evade U.S. law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers. Not only did she try to evade the law, but as further alleged, she caused the victim and her spouse to attest to false documents and be a part of her scheme to lie to U.S. government officials. So it is alleged not merely that she sought to evade the law, but that she affirmatively created false documents and went ahead with lying to the U.S. government about what she was doing. One wonders whether any government would not take action regarding false documents being submitted to it in order to bring immigrants into the country. One wonders even more pointedly whether any government would not take action regarding that alleged conduct where the purpose of the scheme was to unfairly treat a domestic worker in ways that violate the law. And one wonders why there is so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?

Second, as the alleged conduct of Ms. Khobragade makes clear, there can be no plausible claim that this case was somehow unexpected or an injustice. Indeed, the law is clearly set forth on the State Department website. Further, there have been other public cases in the United States involving other countries, and some involving India, where the mistreatment of domestic workers by diplomats or consular officers was charged criminally, and there have been civil suits as well. In fact, the Indian government itself has been aware of this legal issue, and that its diplomats and consular officers were at risk of violating the law. The question then may be asked: Is it for U.S. prosecutors to look the other way, ignore the law and the civil rights of victims (again, here an Indian national), or is it the responsibility of the diplomats and consular officers and their government to make sure the law is observed?

Third, Ms. Khobragade, the Deputy General Consul for Political, Economic, Commercial and Women’s Affairs, is alleged to have treated this victim illegally in numerous ways by paying her far below minimum wage, despite her child care responsibilities and many household duties, such that it was not a legal wage. The victim is also alleged to have worked far more than the 40 hours per week she was contracted to work, and which exceeded the maximum hour limit set forth in the visa application. Ms. Khobragade, as the Complaint charges, created a second contract that was not to be revealed to the U.S. government, that changed the amount to be paid to far below minimum wage, deleted the required language protecting the victim from other forms of exploitation and abuse, and also deleted language that stated that Ms. Khobragade agreed to “abide by all Federal, state, and local laws in the U.S.” As the Complaint states, these are only “in part” the facts, and there are other facts regarding the treatment of the victim – that were not consistent with the law or the representations made by Ms. Khobragade — that caused this Office and the State Department, to take legal action.

Fourth, as to Ms. Khobragade’s arrest by State Department agents, this is a prosecutor’s office in charge of prosecution, not the arrest or custody, of the defendant, and therefore those questions may be better referred to other agencies. I will address these issues based on the facts as I understand them. Ms. Khobragade was accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens, are accorded. 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. It is true that she 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.

Fifth, as has been reported, the victim’s family has been brought to the United States. As also has been reported, legal process was started in India against the victim, attempting to silence her, and attempts were made to compel her to return to India. Further, the Victim’s family reportedly was confronted in numerous ways regarding this case. Speculation about why the family was brought here has been rampant and incorrect. Some focus should perhaps be put on why it was necessary to evacuate the family and what actions were taken in India vis-à-vis them. This Office and the Justice Department are compelled to make sure that victims, witnesses and their families are safe and secure while cases are pending.

Finally, this Office’s sole motivation in this case, as in all cases, is to uphold the rule of law, protect victims, and hold accountable anyone who breaks the law – no matter what their societal status and no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are.

The comments directed at Mr. Bharara on Indian media have turned nasty, a sampling here and here, but much worse on social media.

In early December 49 Russian Diplomats/Spouses Charged With Picking Uncle Sam’s Pocket in Medicaid Scam. That was Mr. Bharara’s office.  He, by, the way, has a 77-0 record in insider trading cases in his office’s campaign to root out illegal conduct on Wall Street. According to NYT, the government’s marquee conviction came in 2011, when a jury found the billionaire hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam guilty of insider trading.  And don’t forget Rajat Gupta, ex-director of Goldman Sachs and ex-head of consulting at McKinsey & Co., who was sentenced to two years in prison.

In 2011, Mr. Bharara, the man who makes Wall Street tremble, was India Abroad Person of the Year 2011, an event attended by who’s who of the Diaspora and India.

It looks like in 2013, Mr. Bharara is the man who makes Embassy Row tremble.

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