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Devyani seeks indictment deadline extension, Bharara opposed

New York/Washington, Jan 7 (PTI): Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade has sought a one-month extension of the deadline for charging her in the visa fraud case but her plea has been opposed by the prosecution, even as the US on Tuesday said it wants to resolve the “ordeal” as soon as possible.

Khobragade, 39, has requested for the extension of the January 13 indictment deadline, saying the “pressure of the impending” deadline is interfering with the ability of the parties to have meaningful discussions.

US prosecutor Preet Bharara's office is required to file charges against the diplomat within 30 days of her arrest.

However, in the request submitted late Monday with Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Khobragade's counsel sought postponement of the preliminary hearing date, currently scheduled for January 13, and extension of the indictment deadline by 30 days “to and including February 12, 2014”.

”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,” Khobragade's counsel Daniel Arshack said in the request.

The lawyer told the judge that he has conferred with the prosecution concerning extending the deadline and has been informed that the prosecution will not seek an extension of the deadline.

”We therefore, wish to inform the court that we waive the 30 day time limit set by the court on December 12, 2013 because we believe that the time limit is interfering with the parties ability to continue to have meaningful discussions,” Arshack said in his request to the judge.

Responding to Arshack's request, Bharara wrote to the judge that his office is opposed to the extension of the deadline sought by Khobragade, saying plea discussions can continue even after she is charged.

”This office remains receptive to continuing the plea discussions that have taken place over the past several weeks. We have participated in hours of discussion in the hope of negotiating a plea that could be entered in Court before January 13,” Bharara said.

”Indeed, as recently as Saturday, January 5, the Government outlined reasonable parameters for a plea that could resolve the case, to which the defendant has not responded,” he said.

The US, meanwhile, stated that it wants the issue to be resolved as soon as possible, with State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf saying “As I've said, many, many times throughout this whole ordeal, that we don't want this to define our relationship going forward and don't think that it will.”

”We want it to be resolved as soon as possible. Certainly, that's our goal, but we're only part of this process,” Harf said.

She said the US does not want India-US ties to be affected by the arrest of the Indian diplomat in New York.

Asked if the US was hopeful that the issue would be resolved, Harf said, “absolutely”.

The US and Indian officials are believed to be working on both the diplomatic and judicial front to arrive at an amicable resolution of the issue, with American officials insisting that law would take its own course.

”We're the diplomatic part that focuses on the relationship and all the issues we work together on. There is a separate judicial and legal process that is working its way through right now,” Harf said.

”There is a reason we have these processes, and hopefully that will work itself out soon as well, but I don't want to get ahead of that process, and certainly don't want to speak for it,” she noted.

India has sought an US apology and withdrawal of charges against Khobragade.

The US, however, insists that this is an isolated incident.

Harf said that the US is “letting it (this entire episode) run its course” and was focused on “where to go from here because, as we've always said, the relationship with India is incredibly important.”

A 1999-batch IFS officer, Khobragade was arrested on charges of making false declarations in a visa application for her maid Sangeeta Richard. She was released on a $250,000 bond.

India retaliated by downgrading privileges of a certain category of US diplomats among other steps last month.


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