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Posts tagged ‘India Against Corruption’

Indian Diplomat Leaves US in Fraud Case That Fueled Tensions.

Image: Indian Diplomat Leaves US in Fraud Case That Fueled Tensions

NEW DELHI — Devyani Khobragade, the Indian diplomat accused of visa fraud for allegedly underpaying her babysitter, left the United States after she was indicted in a case that roiled relations between the two countries.

Khobragade, 39, was charged Thursday with making “multiple false representations” to U.S. authorities to obtain a visa for the caretaker, and the State Department later ordered her to leave the country after India denied waiving her diplomatic immunity.

Her flight has already left the United States, according to an Indian government official who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Khobragade’s departure may resolve a diplomatic row that threatened to jeopardize a growing economic relationship as annual trade in goods and services between the countries nears $100 billion.

The dispute, which erupted after reports that she was strip-searched, put a cloud over President Barack Obama’s goal of strengthening U.S.-India ties.

“Even though the case is being resolved, it caused waves that will take time to resolve and it has caused reputational harm on both sides,” P.J. Crowley, a former State Department spokesman, said in an email. “Both sides need to make conciliatory gestures in the aftermath,” he wrote. “Wounds do heal, but as always, they leave a scar.”

India’s Ministry of External Affairs said Friday Khobragade had been transferred to a post in New Delhi and that it had declined a U.S. request to waive her diplomatic immunity. Syed Akbaruddin, a ministry spokesman, didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone.

Khobragade was first charged Dec. 12. Her case triggered Indian outrage when news circulated that she was arrested by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service in front of her daughter’s school in upper Manhattan and strip-searched while being held with other female suspects. She was released on $250,000 bond which was unsecured.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has said the strip- search was standard practice in an arrest. The incident sparked an uproar in India as the nation of 1.2 billion people prepares for elections in a few months.

“India will continue to be upset about how this was handled and rightfully so, but this has opened the door to putting this issue behind us,” said Karl Inderfurth, a former State Department official responsible for South Asia.

Secretary of State John Kerry should now reach out to the Indian government, Inderfurth, now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in an interview.

“I’d hope the last word is from the State Department, preferably from Secretary Kerry, stating U.S. regret, if not apology, for how this was handled,” he said.The Indian government demonstrated its displeasure with a variety of small reprisals, including removing some security barriers at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, lifting traffic-violation exemptions for U.S. Embassy cars, and ordering the American Center, a venue in central New Delhi for U.S. cultural programs, to halt its activities.

The U.S. countered by postponing anticipated visits to India by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Nisha Desai Biswal, the U.S. assistant secretary of state responsible for India.

During a visit in November 2010, Obama called the relationship with India “one of the defining and indispensable partnerships of the 21st century.”

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was Obama’s first official diplomatic guest in 2009, last week described a deal with the United States that allowed it to import nuclear technology as his greatest achievement during a decade in power.

He told reporters in New Delhi that diplomacy should be given a chance to resolve the recent “hiccups” in relations.

Raymond Vickery, a top U.S. trade official under former President Bill Clinton and now a senior director at the Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington, said that expanding trade and investment has been “the underlying driver” in U.S.-India relations.

Speaking before the late legal developments, Vickery said business relations hadn’t yet been hurt by the dispute. The bilateral trade in goods and services reached $92.5 billion in 2012 from $59.9 billion in 2009, the first year of the Obama administration, according to a joint statement following U.S.-India economic talks in October.

Indian foreign direct investment in the United States increased from $227 million in 2002 to almost $5.2 billion in 2012, making India one of the fastest growing sources of investment into the U.S., according to the statement.

At the hearing in Manhattan, Khobragade’s lawyer Daniel Arshack said he told her not to board an Air India flight Thursday afternoon because “there was at least a possibility that it would be viewed as flight” from prosecution.

Arshack said his client had “diplomatic status” and told U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin that she no longer had jurisdiction over the case.

“I was not willing to permit her to depart without appearing before your honor,” Arshack said. He asked Scheindlin to vacate his client’s bail.

Scheindlin later agreed that Khobragade wouldn’t be accused of bail jumping if she agreed to the State Department’s request. The judge deferred a decision on bail to a later date.

“We are pleased that the United States Department of State did the right thing today by recognizing the diplomatic status to which Dr. Khobragade has always been entitled,” Arshack said in a statement issued last night. He accused the government of committing a series of “blunders.”

The visa fraud charge against Khobragade carries a maximum prison term of 10 years, while the false statements charge has a maximum term of five years, according to prosecutors in Bharara’s office.

In a contract Khobragade submitted as part of the visa application, the diplomat said she paid the babysitter $9.75 an hour — above minimum wage as required by law, State Department Special Agent Mark Smith said in the original criminal complaint.

In a second contract, the diplomat agreed to pay the babysitter 30,000 rupees a month, or $573, the United States said, which came out to $3.31 an hour. New York minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

“Khobragade did not want to pay the victim the required wages under U.S. law or provide the victim with other protections against exploitative work conditions mandated by U.S. law [and widely publicized to foreign diplomats and foreign officials],” according to the indictment.

After her arrest, Khobragade was named by her country to serve as a member of its permanent mission to the United Nations, a position that gave her a higher level of diplomatic immunity than she enjoyed as deputy consul general at India’s consulate general in New York.The United States accepted the request to accredit Khobragade to the U.N. mission, according to a State Department news release. Seeking to deny such a request would be almost without precedent, except in matters of national security including espionage, the department said.

The United States first asked for a waiver of diplomatic immunity, which India subsequently denied, then requested that she return to India, the department said.

The case is U.S. v. Khobragade, 14-cr-00008, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

© Copyright 2014 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.


Anti-corruption crusader rattles India’s political class.


NEW DELHI (Reuters) – From a shabby house in one of New Delhi’s grimmest suburbs, a mild-mannered former tax official has launched a salvo of accusations of corruption involving some ofIndia’s most powerful people, rocking the political establishment.

In quick succession, Arvind Kejriwal has publicly leveled charges of shady dealings against the son-in-law of ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, the outgoing law minister and the leader of the main opposition party.

His claims, carried live and endlessly raked over by breathless 24/7 television news networks, tap into popular outrage over the deep-rooted corruption in Indian politics, government and business that is often endured but rarely confronted in so public a manner, even by the media.

“Our purpose is to tell the people that every single political party is corrupt. They are in collusion with each other, they protect each other,” Kejriwal told Reuters as he sat in a sparsely furnished office receiving a stream of visitors.

While none of Kejriwal’s claims have yet led to any formal investigations, his targeting of high-profile individuals is unprecedented.

Anti-corruption activists have in the past pressed for stricter rules to tackle corruption but have refrained from naming and shaming. Even rival political parties have tended to shy away from personal attacks.

It is, though, the parties that Indians perceive as the most corrupt institutions, according to Transparency International. A recent survey of upper house lawmakers by National Election Watch found their average net worth stood at about $2.3 million. Lawmakers earn about $900 a month.


Kejriwal has fought a decade-long campaign to bring more transparency to government, but it was in 2010 that he began to pursue corruption more vigorously.

He was one of the architects of the India Against Corruption movement led by veteran social activist Anna Hazare, 75, whose public hunger strike against graft last year led to an outpouring of support from millions of middle-class Indians disgusted by the venality of the ruling class.

Corruption is part of daily life in India – from bribes paid for something as simple as getting a gas connection, passport or avoiding a traffic violation, to multi-billion-dollar scandals.

Hazare’s campaign has fizzled, but Kejriwal’s targeting of high-profile individuals has thrust him into the spotlight.

In the space of a few weeks the diminutive former bureaucrat, who often wears a short-sleeve check shirt that seems one size too big for him, has become a media sensation. His news conferences attract hundreds of reporters, and he has announced he is launching his own political party.

His critics dismiss him as a political opportunist, but acknowledge his shrewd use of the media, especially television, to amplify his anti-corruption crusade.

“He has shaken up the system. Whether that will result in the cleansing of the system, I don’t know,” said political commentator Swapan Dasgupta.

None of Kejriwal’s corruption claims – which are based on government documents obtained through India’s Right to Information Act or whistleblowers – amount to a “smoking gun”. But his outspokenness has emboldened Indian media to launch their own investigations into those named.


A Congress party leader called Kejriwal a “self-serving ambitious megalomaniac” after he produced documents alleging irregularities in land deals involving Sonia Gandhi’s businessman son-in-law, Robert Vadra, and India’s biggest property developer, DLF Ltd.

Vadra has denied the allegations, saying they were “utterly false, entirely baseless and defamatory”. DLF, which has also strongly denied any impropriety, saw nearly $580 million wiped off its market value in a single day after Kejriwal’s claims.

In making the allegations, Kejriwal trod on dangerous ground. The charges punctured the almost bullet-proof wall of silence that surrounds the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty, which is viewed as the closest thing India has to a royal family.

Kejriwal, 44, smiles beneath his neatly trimmed moustache when asked about the bitter verbal attacks on him. “We expected all this to happen, which only means that we have been effective. They are all rattled,” he said.

Outgoing Law Minister Salman Khurshid called Kejriwal an ant trying to take on an elephant after he alleged a non-governmental group led by Khurshid and his wife misused funds.

The Khurshids have denied any wrongdoing, and the prime minister publicly demonstrated his support by making him foreign minister on Sunday.

One of Khurshid’s cabinet colleagues said he did not believe Kejriwal’s allegations that Khurshid had embezzled a sum equivalent to $134,000. “It is a very small amount for a central minister,” he said, adding that he would have taken the charge seriously if the amount had been 100 times larger.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called Kejriwal a “hitman” after he raised questions about a land deal involving BJP president Nitin Gadkari. Gadkari also denied any wrongdoing.


On any given day, the three-storey office of Kejriwal’s India Against Corruption in the east Delhi suburb of Ghaziabad is a hive of activity.

Activists on plastic chairs tap away at laptops recording citizens’ complaints. Piles of pamphlets titled “Power to the People” are stacked in a corner, while pictures of independence hero Mahatma Gandhi dot the walls.

A small rag-tag group of paid staff and volunteers help direct a sophisticated media campaign that includes Twitter, Facebook, and mass text messages and emails.

In the lull that has followed Kejriwal’s series of corruption claims, questions have arisen about his “judge, jury, prosecutor” approach, how he can sustain media interest in his campaign without more sensational claims, and whether he is being manipulated by political parties to smear opponents.

“Mr Kejriwal has done a signal service by raising the issue of endemic corruption. But he does not seem to have the patience to wait for one set of charges to be proved or disproved before coming up with another,” the Hindustan Times newspaper said.

Prashant Bhushan, a veteran Supreme Court lawyer and legal advisor to Kejriwal, insists that the allegations of wrongdoing are all carefully screened before they are made public. He acknowledged, however, that it was possible some of them may have ultimately emanated from certain political parties.


Kejriwal dismisses media efforts to cast him as an Indian Julian Assange, the controversial founder of WikiLeaks.

“Our idea is not to keep exposing people. Our purpose is to change the political establishment,” Kejriwal said.

Kejriwal has yet to name his party, which will contest upcoming state and national elections, but his decision to enter politics has raised eyebrows. Some political commentators, and even former comrades, call him a naive idealist who will become just another voice in a noisy parliament.

Kejriwal, who is shy and soft-spoken away from the television cameras, straightens up in his plastic chair and speaks with passion when asked to respond to such criticism.

“Without jumping into the system, it will be impossible to clean up the system. We are going to challenge this political system on a daily basis,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Annie Banerji; Editing by Michael Perry and Robert Birsel)


By Ross Colvin and John Chalmers | Reuters

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