US judge denies Devyani Khobragade`s request to extend Jan 13 hearing
Zee Media Bureau
New York: A federal judge has denied a request by a lawyer for Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade to delay proceedings in a visa fraud case that has tossed the ties between India and the US around.
In an order issued on Wednesday, Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York refused to extend the January 13 deadline by which a preliminary hearing must be held or an indictment filed in the case.
Khobragade`s lawyer, Daniel Arshack, had on Monday asked Netburn to extend the deadline, saying it was negatively interfering with plea negotiations with the government.
The judge said adjournment of the date will not grant Khobragade the "relief she seeks" regarding plea negotiations between her and the government to resolve the visa fraud case.
An indictment or information charging the defendant with the commission of an offence must be filed within 30 days of the date of the defendant`s arrest or service of a summons in connection with such charges, she said in her order.
Any adjournment of the preliminary hearing date will not have any impact on the filing of the indictment.
"The defendant has requested only that the preliminary date be adjourned for 30 days for good cause shown... Because a modification of the hearing date will not itself alter the time period for the filing of an indictment or information, the defendant`s concerns regarding the pressures of an impending indictment on plea negotiations will not grant her the relief she seeks."
"Therefore, good cause has not been demonstrated, and the defendant`s request for an adjournment of the preliminary hearing date is Denied," Netburn said in her three-page order issued late yesterday.
She said since Khobragade was arrested on December 12, 2013, she "must be indicted (or an information by the government must be filed against her)" by January 13.
"Therefore, an extension of the preliminary hearing date ...Will not relieve the pressure identified by the defendant. Moreover, the defendant cannot extend Speedy Trial time limits merely by filing a waiver."
"The Speedy Trial Act is not solely a protection for the defendant," Netburn said in her judgement, " it is also designed to serve the public`s interest in a speedy trial of those charged with federal criminal offences."
The order means the indictment against Khobragade will now have to filed before or on January 13.
Her lawyer Daniel Arshack had sought postponement of the preliminary hearing date and extension of the indictment deadline by 30 days "to and including February 12, 2014".
He had said that the extension is being sought in order to facilitate the plea discussions that have been ongoing between his office and Khobragade. Netburn ruled that "an adjournment of the preliminary hearing date will not grant the defendant the relief she (Khobragade) seeks."
Preet Bharara, the US Attorney in Manhattan, whose office is handling the case, opposed the delay, arguing that plea discussions can continue following indictment in the case.
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 USD 250,000 bond.
The December 12 handcuffing and strip-search of Khobragade, India`s deputy consul general in New York, caused widespread outrage in India.
She has denied the charges of visa fraud and underpaying her nanny.
India has demanded the US take back all charges against Khobragade and offer an unconditional apology.
(With Agency inputs)
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