A lawyer for Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade is seeking to postpone proceedings in a visa fraud case that has created tensions between the US and India, citing the need to continue “meaningful discussions” with the prosecution.
In a letter to a federal magistrate judge in New York, Khobragade’s lawyer requested an extension of the time by which the US government must file an indictment or commence a preliminary hearing.
The lawyer, Daniel Arshack, confirmed he filed the letter in court, but would not comment about a possible resolution of the case.
Khobragade, who was deputy consul-general in New York, was arrested on Dec. 12 and charged with one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements about how much she paid her housekeeper.
The case was adjourned until Monday next week, by which time the government must commence a preliminary hearing or file an indictment.
Arshack asked US Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn to extend the deadline by 30 days to Feb. 12.
“Significant communications have been had between the prosecution and the defense and amongst other government officials and it is our strong view that the pressure of the impending deadline is counterproductive to continued communications,” Arshack wrote.
However, Preet Bharara, the US attorney in Manhattan whose office is handling the case, said the plea discussions can continue following the indictment in the case.
“The government is not seeking an extension of the deadline for indictment and therefore there is no motion for the court to decide. At any rate, as the court knows, the timing under which the government seeks an indictment is in the discretion of the government, and the defendant cannot alter that,” Bharara wrote in a letter to a federal magistrate judge in New York.
Bharara added that as recently as last Sunday, the government outlined “reasonable parameters” for a plea that could resolve the case, to which the defendant has not responded.
Khobragade’s arrest enraged India, which is demanding that all charges be dropped against her. On the day of her arrest, she was strip-searched. The arresting authority, the US Marshals Service, said the strip search was a routine procedure imposed on any new arrestee at the federal courthouse.
Khobragade was released on US$250,000 bail.
In the aftermath of her arrest, India asked to transfer Khobragade to the UN.
US Department of State spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Monday that India’s application to transfer Khobragade’s accreditation to the Indian mission at the UN, which was made before Christmas, was still under review.