India-born US prosecutor Preet Bharara has told a judge here that his office is opposed to the one-month extension of the deadline for charging Devyani Khobragade in a visa fraud case as sought by her, saying plea discussions can continue even after she is charged
Khobragade's lawyer Daniel Arshack has submitted a request with Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking 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".
Responding to Arshack's request, Bharara wrote to the judge that the government is not seeking an extension of the deadline for indictment.
He said the one-month adjournment of the January 13 preliminary hearing date has been sought in order to facilitate the plea discussions that have been ongoing between his office and Khobragade.
US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara. Pic/AFP
"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.
Bharara pointed out that the plea discussions to resolve the issue can continue even after the indictment has been filed. He said while his office remains open to continuing the plea discussions as the case proceeds, "the discussions are simply not at a stage that merits a continuance of the preliminary hearing."
"Moreover, the plea discussions can continue following indictment of the case. Accordingly, the Government is not seeking an extension of the deadline for indictment and therefore there is no motion for the Court to decide," Bharara said.
"At any rate, as the Court knows, the timing under which the Government seeks an indictment is in the discretion of the Government, and the defendant cannot alter that," he said.
A 1999-batch IFS officer, 39-year-old Khobragade was arrested on charges of making false declarations in a visa application for her maid Sangeeta Richard. She was released on a USD 250,000 bond. India retaliated by downgrading privileges of a certain category of US diplomats among other steps last month.