US attorney Preet Bharara comes out swinging to defend his arrest of an Indian diplomat

What does a “full search” entail?
What does a “full search” entail?
Image: Reuters/Carlo Allegri
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Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara has taken on Wall Street, Al Qaeda, and the Gambino crime family, but few of his cases have aroused as much acrimony and controversy as his office’s arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, who was booked this week for visa fraud and other charges over the employment status of her housekeeper. The alleged rough handling of Khobragade, which included being strip- and cavity-searched, has triggered a massive outcry and diplomatic backlash in India.

Bharara, an Indian American once named Person of the Year by India Abroad magazine, broke his silence over the case in the early hours of Friday with a lengthy statement detailing the case against Khobragade. He acknowledged she had been “fully searched by a female Deputy Marshal in a private setting,” but said, “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.”

He disputed that Khobragade was handcuffed or arrested in front of her children, and noted that she was “was accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants … are accorded,” such as use of her cell phone and time to arrange alternative child care arrangements. He added that the housekeeper’s family had been relocated from India to the United States to ensure their safety after they were confronted about the case.

Khobragade is India’s deputy consul general in New York, and she says she protested her arrest with repeated “assertions of immunity.” But a US State Department spokeswoman said Khobragade does not have full diplomatic immunity, but rather the more limited form of protection.

This isn’t the first time that Bharara has come under scrutiny for prosecuting a high-profile case involving defendants of Indian citizenship or descent—his office has secured insider trading convictions against former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta and tech analyst Sandeep Aggarwal, among others. Asked about his high-profile prosecutions of South Asians, Bharara told BusinessWeek in August: “People spend a little too much time, surprisingly to me, focusing on accidents of ethnic overlap. As a friend of mine once said, you know where that happens every day? Where you have an Indian prosecutor and an Indian defendant? India.”