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Devyani seeks extension of indictment deadline

New York (PTI): Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade has requested a court in New York to extend the deadline for charging her in a visa fraud case, saying the pressure of the impending deadline is interfering with the ability of the parties to have meaningful discussions on the issue.

US Attorney Preet Bharara’s office is required to file an indictment in the case within 30 days of Ms. Khobragade’s arrest and the deadline for that is January 13, 2014.

However, in a request submitted late Monday with Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Khobragade’s counsel sought postponement of the preliminary hearing date 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 defence 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.

He later told PTI that Khobragade, 39, is seeking extension of the indictment deadline, adding that a defendant can seek an extension.

“The deadline is designed to protect defendants from prosecutors who might drag out proceedings… In this case however, an indictment would further polarise the litigants. We would like to avoid that,” Arshack said.

The lawyer told the court 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

“… We believe that making such a request under these circumstances constitutes good cause and is in ‘the public interest’ since it is in the interest of justice, not to mention judicial economy, to promote and encourage the very sort of discussions which have taken place to date,” he said.

Sources had last week said the U.S. is proceeding with the prosecution of Ms. Khobragade and has no intention to withdraw the case of visa fraud against her.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has expressed hope of arriving at a resolution of the issue, which has resulted in “hiccups” in the India-U.S. bilateral ties.

“Absolutely” the State Department Deputy Spokesperson, Marie Harf, told reporters at her daily news conference on Monday, when asked if the U.S. was hopeful that the issue would be resolved.

This comes in the wake of strong Indian statement to the U.S. that it cannot be “business as usual” between the two sides till the issue is resolved.

Vikram Doraiswami, Joint Secretary (Americas), conveyed this to U.S. Ambassador Nancy Powell when she met him at South Block in New Delhi on Monday.

The U.S. 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 U.S. officials insisting that law would take its own course.

“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,” Harf said noting that the U.S. does not want India-U.S. ties to be affected by the arrest of the Indian diplomat in New York last month on visa fraud charges.

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