Preet Bharara blames US State Department for Devyani Trouble

Washington: Manhattan’s India-born US prosecutor has defended his role in the arrest and prosecution of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, saying it was the State Department that opened the case.

The December arrest and alleged strip search of Khobragade, India’s then deputy consul general in New York on charges of visa fraud and underpaying her housekeeper, caused a major diplomatic row that threatened to derail India-US relations.

But in a speech laced with humour at Harvard Law school last week, Bharara insisted that he became “personally aware” that Khobragade would be arrested only a couple of days before the arrest was scheduled.

He was upset over the “stupid” criticism of his conduct and was bothered by the “line of attack” made by the Indian government and media.

It was suggested that he brought the case to “serve his white masters, presumably (US Attorney General) Eric Holder and (President) Barack Obama”, both of whom are black.

“That is an example of criticism that is stupid,” he said. As the criticism got “increasingly intense” over time, it bothered his parents and this made him upset.

“(It was) not the crime of the century but a serious crime nonetheless, that is why the State Department opened the case, that is why the State Department investigated it,” Bharara said.

“That is why career agents in the State Department asked career prosecutors in my office to approve criminal charges,” he said.

“Indian critics were angry because even though I hailed from India, I appeared to be going out of my way to act American and serve the interests of America, which was odd because I am American and the words US are in my title,” he said.

Bharara’s Harvard address got less play in the US media than Indian-American actress Mindy Kaling’s hilarious speech though the celebrity prosecutor “managed to combine humour and wisdom, in magnificent fashion”, David Lat commented in “Above the Law”.

Bharara, who has successfully prosecuted a record 79 high-profile Wall Street executives, including Indian-American Rajat Gupta, a former Goldman Sachs Group director, joked about that too.

“I have had an unexpectedly productive trip so far,” he joked. “I arrived last evening, stopped by the Business School, dropped off some subpoenas, arrested a couple of guys for insider trading, and finished off the night sipping a scorpion bowl at the Kong.”