Devyani Khobragade, the Indian diplomat in the United States, has sought an extension of the indictment hearing scheduled for January 13 in a visa fraud case, according to her lawyer.
But, the US attorney handling the case, Preet Bharara, has expressed himself against such an extension.
“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 said that as recently as January 5, the government outlined “reasonable parameters” for a plea that could resolve the case, to which the defendant has not responded.
Khobragade, who was deputy consul-general in New York, was arrested on December 12 and charged with one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements about how much she paid her housekeeper.
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.
The public interest
Arshack asked US Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn to extend the deadline by 30 days to February 12.
“Significant communications have been had between the prosecution and the defence 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.
Explaining the request, Arshack was quoted by India’s PTI news agency as saying, “The deadline is designed to protect defendants from prosecutors who might drag out proceedings…In this case however, an indictment would further polarise the litigants. We would like to avoid that.”
“We believe that making such a request under these circumstances constitutes good cause and is in ‘the public interest’ since it is in the interest of justice, not to mention judicial economy, to promote and encourage the very sort of discussions which have taken place to date,” he told the news agency.
The issue that has somewhat soured relations between the two, otherwise friendly, nations came to a fore on December 12 when Khobragade was arrested briefly.
What angered New Delhi was the rough treatment meted out to the diplomat which included a strip-search, handcuffing and lodging her in a cell with drug addicts.