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.

Related post:

Enhanced by Zemanta

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.

* * *