When 45-year-old U.S. Atty. Preetinder Singh “Preet” Bharara charged and arrested 39-year-old Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade Dec. 12 on visa “fraud,” he had no clue about the repercussions. Instead of dealing with her former housekeeper Sangeeta Richard’s money complaint quietly, Preet decided to grandstand, causing incalculable damage to U.S.-Indian relations. Following loosely in former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s footsteps as Wall Street’s Sheriff, the former Harvard University and Columbia Law grad burnished quite a reputation as New York’s gun-slinging prosecutor in the Southern District’s U.S. Attorney’s Office. Arresting Khobragade outside her daughter’s elementary school, strip searching her and charging her with draconic visa violations with up to 20-years jail time has turned an easily manageable complaint into a diplomatic nightmare.
Preet’s lack of common sense prompted Secretary of State John Kerry to make a veiled apology to Indian National Security Adviser Shivshanker Menon. Whether the Justice Department grants Khobragade complete diplomatic immunity or not, the charges will eventually get dropped. Showing that he’s bereft of logic, Preet justified his actions, further dousing gasoline on the diplomatic flames. Accused of “cavity” searching Khobragade, Preet felt inclined to hit the airwaves. “It is important to correct these inaccuracies because they are misleading people and creating an inflammatory atmosphere on an unfounded basis,” said Preet, showing, once again, his tone deafness to the real issue. No foreign diplomat should face the indignity of arrest and prosecution for an easily resolvable problem. Whether Preet sees it or not, pay disputes are not federal offenses.
Calling Khobragade’s treatment “deplorable,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh upped the stakes to U.S. officials to expedite a prompt resolution to what seems like Preet’s colossal blunder. India’s National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon called Khobragade’s treatment “barbaric,” expressing the collective outrage shared by most Indians. Citing an 11-page complaint, Preet outlined his case accusing Khobragade of deliberately lying on her visa application promising her housekeeper a 40-hout work week at $9.75 an hour while actually working her more hours and paying her $3.25 an hour. Whether or not there was any discrepancy, Preet could have let Khobragade resolve the matter with Richard and their attorneys. “Khobragade was accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens, are accorded,” said Preet showing his bias.
Born in Firozpur, Punjab, India, Preet immigrated with his family, moving as a child to Eatontown, New Jersey. As newcomer, Preet excelled in school, graduating valedictorian in 1986 from Ranney School in Tinton, New Jersey, moving on to Harvard College. Most upwardly mobile immigrants adopt their host countries, working hard to prove themselves, often exaggerating host country characteristics or legal rights. No one complained when Preet made a name for himself at the U.S. Attorney’s Office going after Wall Street pirates like fellow countrymen Raj Rajartnam, Rajat Gupta and Anil Kumar and others for insider trading. Nor did they complain when Preet helped recover $7.2 billion for Jeffrey Picower from the estate of Bernard Madoff. Nor were there complaints when Preet secured a life sentence for would be Time Square bomber Ahmed Ghailani.
Preet’s problem this time around was making a mountain out of molehill. Charging Khobragade with visa fraud for not paying her Indian housekeeper the exact amount promised smacks of grandstanding, probably driven by his immigrant status, proving that he doesn’t give a pass to his former countrymen or women. “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,” said Bharara, continuing to justify the indefensible. If an employee of Khobragade had any problem with her pay or working conditions, she could have resolved the matter through other channels. Richard’s attorney Dana Sussman said her client tried to resolve the matter amicably before going to the feds. Where Preet loses the big picture is that ordinary pay disputes are resolved without filing federal charges.
Administering American justice involves common sense that seems sadly lacking from the Harvard and Columbia Law graduate. “Regret on the situation at large, I would say both, honestly. He certainly expressed regret about what happened with this case at large, sort of how this all played out,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, clarifying Kerry’s veiled apology and embarrassment to the U.S. government. “She paid her worker exactly what she was supposed to pay her and the government has simply made a whole series of spectacular blunders, which has embroiled them into quite a remarkable diplomatic kerfuffle,” said Khobragade’s attorney Daniel Arashack. “You don’t want a justice system where you have prosecutors who are cowboys,” Preet once said about how he screens applicants for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Judging by Preet’s actions, he’s the biggest cowboy of them all.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.