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Nation/World

December 20, 2013

Lawyer: Indian housekeeper did not extort money

NEW YORK — The Indian housekeeper worked from morning until late at night, seven days week, for less than $3 an hour taking care of the two children of a diplomat. Unable to get a better deal, she made sure the children were cared for one day and walked out, her lawyer said yesterday.

From that moment on, Sangeeta Richard relied on the kindness of strangers within the Indian community in New York City, and even was cared for at one point by a Sikh temple. She eventually connected with the nonprofit Safe Horizon, which has an anti-trafficking program.

“She was basically just trying to find her way. She was left with the clothes on her back, with very little money,” attorney Dana Sussman said.

The housekeeper and her Safe Horizon attorney, Dana Sussman, eventually went to the State Department with the allegations. Her employer, Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, was arrested last week and accused of submitting false documents to obtain a work visa for Richard. According to prosecutors, Khobragade claimed she paid the woman $4,500 a month but actually paid her around $3 per hour.

Richard’s and Khobragade’s accounts of the events that led to the diplomat’s arrest and touched off a diplomatic furor between the United States and India differ greatly.

The diplomat and Indian officials say Khobragade is the victim who was being blackmailed by her maid and was mistreated by authorities in the United States.

The case has chilled U.S.-Indian relations, and India has revoked privileges for U.S. diplomats in protest. India revoked diplomat ID cards that brought certain privileges as retaliation, demanding to know the salaries paid to Indian staff in U.S. Embassy households, and withdrawing import licenses that allowed the commissary at the U.S. Embassy to import alcohol and food.

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